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Understanding fundamentals of health information management

With the increase in available data, the practice of health information management is becoming more critical to acquiring, organizing and assessing medical information.

The fundamentals of health information management focus on curating an individual's medical information, a task that is increasingly becoming more essential in the healthcare system as the influx of data continues to grow with information digitization.

Health information management (HIM) is an "essential and important" function to support the overall process for healthcare, said Steve Wretling, HIMSS chief technology and innovation officer, because health information management professionals work to ensure "the right information is available when and where it's needed, while at the same time making sure it's the highest quality data, it's confidential and it's secure."

Without the practice of HIM, Wretling said, clinicians and administrators would be "on their own" organizing and curating medical data to make sure they have quality information.

To apply the fundamentals of health information management, professionals use various tools, Wretling explained. Technologies used vary depending on the type of role the professional plays within the healthcare system.

Scope of health information management expanding

While some of the original fundamentals of health information management focused on coding, data analysis, managerial functions, initial information systems and technology, the scope of a health information management professional's work has expanded as information and modalities that produce information have grown, Wretling said.

Now, HIM professionals work in areas such as privacy and security and have become involved with innovation and research as well. Wretling pointed out that a HIM professional's work today is "critical in the healthcare decision and care process for patients" as health IT options and patient access to their own information grow, increasing the flow of information and data.

Steve Wretling, HIMSS chief technology and innovation officerSteve Wretling

Wretling said the digitization of healthcare is continuing, primarily fed by the consumer movement, and as it grows there are higher expectations for the ease of use of technology to access information.

Along with handling and addressing patient needs for information, Wretling said HIM professionals and clinicians have to deal with a "data tsunami" created by digitized systems. Wretling said adding new sources of digital information, such as connected medical devices, is beneficial by providing more information with which to make decisions, but managing that information becomes a more significant challenge.

Data explosion makes information management essential

[It's key to ensure] the right information is available when and where it's needed, while at the same time making sure it's the highest quality data, it's confidential and it's secure.
Steve Wretlingchief technology and innovation officer, HIMSS

"We've got this exponential volume of information that's growing every day," Wretling said. "Too much data can lead to bad decisions or confusion, or the inability to even make a decision. So that's why health information management as a practice is essential."

As HIM professionals grapple with the significant influx of medical information in today's healthcare systems, Wretling said an ongoing challenge for the practice will be securing and protecting data.

Another challenge associated with the fundamentals of health information management is ensuring the quality of clinical data collected and aggregated with other data, Wretling said.

"Really understanding the source of data ... and how it should be used in the care process will continue to be an ever-growing challenge for health information."

Health information management, Wretling said, "is an exciting field because it's an ever-growing field that really needs expertise and leadership to tackle it."

This was last published in June 2018

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