Definition

clinical informatics

Contributor(s): Megan Charles

Clinical informatics, also known as health informatics, is the study of how technology and data analytics can be used to improve patient care plans. Given the ever-increasing availability of digital patient information from electronic health records (EHRs), medical images and other sources, providers rely on quality, up-to-date data and technology when assessing their patients. Physicians, nurses, pharmacists and therapists collect and share data so they can create a patient treatment plan. During this process, clinicians use various pieces of technology and equipment to gather, store and distribute patient information.

At its core, clinical informatics, also known as applied clinical informatics, centers on providing better patient care using technology. Clinical informaticists evaluate the efficacy and operation of clinical information systems, how the information is used and how to best improve the quality of care moving forward.

Clinical information systems are computer-based systems designed for collecting, storing, manipulating and making available clinical information important to the healthcare delivery process.

What does a clinical informaticist do?

Clinical informaticists combine the practices of computer science, information science (IS), healthcare and healthcare management to enhance workflows, health outcomes, and strengthen clinician-patient relationships.

With those broad goals in mind, clinical informaticians use their knowledge of patient care and their understanding of health informatics tools to accomplish the following:

  • Assess the needs of healthcare professionals and patients.
  • Appraise and refine clinical processes.
  • Participate in the customization, development and management of clinical information systems.

Additional duties can include training medical staff on system use and working across multiple departments to encourage colleagues to share information.

Why is clinical informatics important?

Clinical informatics helps optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of information in healthcare. As a result, when clinicians openly collaborate with other healthcare and IT professionals more resourcefully, patient care becomes safer and more effective.

Regular assessments and use of health IT and the secure electronic exchange of health information can improve overall healthcare quality, increase productivity, prevent medical errors, reduce costs, increase administrative efficiencies and improve real-time communication between healthcare professionals.

Examples of health information technology include EHRs, bed management systems, radio-frequency identification (RFID) to help track patients and equipment, and secure health information exchange portals, which allow instant access of medical records to both patients and approved medical providers.

Careers in clinical informatics

Because informatics is a multidisciplinary field of information science aided by the use of technology, it can be used in various areas of medicine, including nursing, clinical medicine, dentistry, pharmacology, physical therapy and biomedical research. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of health information professionals is expected to grow more than 15% by 2024.

In some hospitals, clinical informaticists or clinical informatics managers may be trained nurses by background, but are full-time employees under the IT department. Closely related to this type of work are nursing informaticists -- bedside nurses who are more involved in the hospital's IT efforts.

Nursing informatics applies to all areas of nursing practice, which include clinical approaches, administration, education and research. Informatics nurses bridge the gap between clinical and IT departments. The role of a nursing informaticist is to provide information necessary to the decision-making behind the patient's ongoing care plan, which may then lower readmission rates, reduce the length of stay or improve the patient's outcome. A nurse in this position knows how to store, access and analyze medical information and how to keep the healthcare facility's information systems up to date. Nursing informaticists frequently work in hospitals, healthcare facilities, consulting firms, universities and corporations.

According to Nurse Journal, the average salary for nursing informatics analysts can range from $49,000 to $87,000.

This was last updated in May 2018

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