health informatics

Contributor(s): Alex DelVecchio

Health informatics is the study of resources and methods for the management of health information.

This area of study supports health information technology, medical practice, medical research and medical informatics. To that end, health informatics involves systems such as electronic health records (EHR) and electronic medical records (EMR), health information exchange standards such as Health Level 7 (HL7), medical terminologies such as Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine, clinical terms such as SNOMED-CT (SNOMED CT), and portable medical devices for the collection of health data.

Health informatics technology includes the electronics and information technology used during the course of patient care, a practice also known as clinical informatics. The definition of the clinical informatics specialty, formed in part by the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), describes it as the implementation and evaluation of communication systems that improve patients' health and care, as well as the relationship between patients and their physicians.

Nursing informatics is a subset of health informatics that encompasses nurses' interactions with healthcare technology systems. It's a field that will take on increased importance as more facilities put their patient records online and entrust their nursing teams to handle transition-of-care situations in their EHRs. Nursing informatics specialists are a group who will be depended on to accurately document transitions of care -- whether a patient is going from an ambulatory setting to a hospital setting or from a hospital to a rehabilitation center -- something that is required by meaningful use program criteria. As is the case with clinical informatics, nursing informatics is still growing as an educational field in which students can receive academic certificates and degrees.

In many organizations, the chief medical information officer (CMIO) can also be known as the director of health informatics or director of medical informatics. CMIOs are responsible for designing and integrating technology into physicians' workflows, and they straddle the medical and technological sides of medicine, serving as intermediaries between physicians and the IT department. The duties of a chief nursing informatics officer (CNIO) can overlap with those of a CMIO. The CNIO role is typically more targeted than the CMIO role at evaluating products and developing a workflow within which nursing teams can effectively use the technology they most commonly work with, an EHR system.

Health data analytics experts who can track and draw insights from health informatics data are of increasing value to accountable care organizations (ACOs). By recording the health statuses of their patients, hospitals that are member of an ACO can more accurately report this information to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and are able to share in any documented financial savings they create for the Medicare program.

The first use of health informatics occurred in the 1950s with dental data collected by the National Bureau of Standards, now known as the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). Usage accelerated in subsequent decades following the development of the Massachusetts General Hospital Utility Multi-Programming System, which provided a standard programming language for clinical applications. Today, the International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) oversees member organizations involved in health informatics worldwide.

This was last updated in December 2014

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