Healthcare informatics grows more sophisticated, more practical

Applied informatics aims to take data being collected in electronic systems and bring it into the day-to-day work of healthcare professionals to improve care and reduce costs, according to an article at Journal of AHIMA.

It can be used at a "30,000-foot level" for national healthcare policy, the article says, at the local and institutional levels or even the individual patient level.

The healthcare informatics professional's role has grown more sophisticated in recent years; these days, it's focused on providing "healthcare intelligence" used in decision-making.

"[The role] is shifting from just using technology principles to collect and store data to a more sophisticated culture that strives to ensure data are accurate and used intellectually to ask the right questions and solve problems or prove solutions," says Lawrence M. Pawola, professor of health informatics and director of graduate studies in the health informatics program at the University of Illinois at Chicago, in the article.

Informaticists may be involved with clinical, cost, inventory and utility data. Further tasks might include electronic health information exchanges, clinical documentation improvement, population health and other areas.

FHN Memorial, a 146-bed hospital in Illinois, for instance, has developed order sets for physicians focused on quality-improvement areas including heart failure, pneumonia, surgical care improvement, outpatient surgical and length of stay. Improvements have brought higher reimbursement from Medicare, reports hospitalist Lucio Martinez, M.D. in the article.

Health informaticists represent the interface between technology and clinicians, and in the future, the practical use of data will be the determining factor between the haves and have-nots, the article states. The rest will be left struggling for market share.

In another example of successful healthcare informatics, Texas Children's Hospital focused its data on treating acute asthma. It found that providers were ordering a higher-than-normal volume of chest X-rays. By rewriting the order set to reflect best practices, the number of chest X-rays ordered for asthma patients has declined 35 percent.

Hospitals also are using analytics technology to create action plans to preemptively treat patients referred to as "super users;" those who find themselves constantly in and out facilities.

Numerous healthcare organizations have launched clinical documentation improvement initiatives as part of their move to ICD-10, which will provide far more granular data on care practices. Baptist Health South Florida, which has dubbed its effort "CDI: Miami," advocates engaging physicians early in improving documentation.

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