In today’s rapidly evolving world, the role of technology in improving patient outcomes cannot be overstated. Healthcare informatics—a field that focuses on the efficient and effective use of data to optimize patient care—has transformed the landscape of the medical industry.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, the use of health informatics can reduce inpatient mortality rates by up to 15 percent. In addition, facilities that leverage health informatics tools have experienced a 25 percent decrease in the duration of patient stays, and a 19 percent reduction in the likelihood of readmission within 30 days.
If you’re interested in having an impact on patients’ overall health, here’s an overview of health informatics’ role in healthcare, the many ways it improves patient care, and how you can leverage this knowledge to become an effective leader in the industry.
What Is Informatics Role in Healthcare?
Health informatics plays a crucial role in healthcare by combining information technology, computer science, clinical knowledge, and management science to improve patient care, enhance efficiency, and reduce overall costs.
“Informatics professionals are responsible for getting health data together, moving it into the right place, and making it accessible to anybody who needs it in the healthcare system,” says Jay Spitulnik, associate teaching professor and director of health informatics graduate program at Northeatern’s Bouvé College of Health Sciences.
By distilling complex data into accessible knowledge, health informatics empowers healthcare providers to make well-informed decisions, forge stronger patient connections, and ultimately, create a healthier, happier world.
5 Ways Health Informatics Improves Patient Care
1. Reduces Health Data Errors
Health informatics plays a critical role in reducing health data errors. By automating data collection and analysis processes, health informatics systems reduce the risk of inaccuracies in various aspects of healthcare that are more susceptible to errors, including:
- Prescription orders
- Health insurance information
- Health data entry/transcription
These systems also provide real-time feedback to clinicians, alerting them to potential medical errors or inconsistencies in patient data. Electronic health records (EHRs) provide physicians with quick and easy access to patient medical histories, which can reduce the need for repeated tests, improve diagnosis accuracy, and avoid unnecessary, costly medical procedures.
According to a report by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, healthcare facilities that adopt EHRs have reported a 27 percent reduction in medication errors and a 30 percent reduction in duplicate testing, which resulted in an estimated $3.12 billion in savings over the course of three years.
2. Increases Efficiency and Coordination
One of the biggest benefits of health informatics is the efficiency it provides for administrative tasks—such as appointment scheduling and billing—which frees up more time for effective patient care. While this might seem like a benefit for larger medical facilities, health informatics plays a crucial role in both community clinics’ and large university health centers’ efficiency and coordination.
By implementing health informatics supported systems—such as EHRs and other health information technology (HIT)—community clinics can enhance their ability to:
- Track patient health histories
- Monitor treatment plans
- Communicate with other healthcare providers
“A local community hospital is not likely to have interdisciplinary interaction as large as a university medical center,” says Spitulnik. “So given the proliferation of electronic records, it becomes easier for community hospital practitioners to access large amounts of important health information that can greatly influence a patient’s diagnosis and treatment.”
3. Boost Patient Engagement
While practitioners play a huge role in patient outcomes, health informatics has revealed the patient’s role in this process as well. “There’s a lot of research that shows that higher levels of patient engagement result in better patient outcomes,” says Spitulnik. “And one of the things that informatics does is enhance the patients’ ability to get involved in their health through patient portals.”
Some examples of important information patient portals track include:
- Medical records
- Test results
- Family medical history
- Appointment notes
This readily available data can help promote transparency in healthcare and empower patients to take a more active role in their overall health. According to a survey conducted by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology, 70 percent of patients who use a patient portal feel more connected with their healthcare provider.
Additionally, patients can use patient portals to schedule appointments, request prescription refills, and send secure messages to their healthcare provider, which can improve communication and overall satisfaction with their care. With the growing trend toward patient-centered care, patient portals are a valuable health informatics tool that increases patient engagement and improves outcomes.
4. Improves Decision-Making
Healthcare decision-making is a complex process that involves a range of challenges, including interpreting and analyzing the large amounts of data available to practitioners today. “There are billions of bytes of information that are available—that includes information about you as an individual as well as everybody else out there in the world,” says Spitulnik.
“For example, informatics provides the tools healthcare providers need to access diagnosis and treatment data of anyone who has the same or similar conditions to aid in their clinical decision-making around a patient’s treatment,” Spitulnik continues.
Health informatics also provides real-time data analysis and predictive modeling, which can also aid in administrative decision-making in a healthcare facility. “Informatics doesn’t just provide clinical data, it also provides demographic information,” says Spitulnik.
According to Spitulnik, this kind of information often helps high-level leadership determine:
- What kind of people is the facility serving?
- What kind of people should the facility be serving that they aren’t?
- What can the facility do to make healthcare more equitable?
“In the end, one of the biggest things informatics offers health professionals at any level is the support they need to make realistic, legitimate decisions about how to treat patients more effectively and equitably,” Spitulnik concludes.
5. Expands Access to Care
Health informatics has greatly increased access to healthcare through telehealth services—the delivery of healthcare services through telecommunication technologies such as video conferencing, remote monitoring, and mobile health apps. “Health informatics has had a major impact on the ability to access your providers and access information from them,” says Spitulnik.
By enabling the secure transfer of medical data and patient information through EHRs, health informatics ensures telehealth services are delivered with the same level of care and confidentiality as traditional in-person appointments. These services are particularly beneficial for patient outcomes in rural or underserved areas that have limited access to healthcare facilities or specialists.
This innovation was particularly important during the early stages of the global pandemic. According to a McKinsey report, the adoption of telehealth services increased from 11 percent of U.S. consumers in 2019 to 46 percent in 2020. With social distancing measures and lockdowns in place, many patients were unable to receive in-person medical care. As a result, health informatics provided the necessary infrastructure for telehealth services.
Become a Leader in Health Informatics
As the healthcare industry continues to embrace new technology, the importance of health informatics will continue to grow as well. This is especially true when considering informatics’ role in improving patient outcomes.
“The more we are able to make health data more accessible and usable by anybody in the world, the better off we’re going to be,” says Spitulnik.
Earning a Master’s in Health Informatics from Northeastern University can be a transformative step toward becoming a leader in the field of healthcare. With a comprehensive curriculum that covers the intersection of healthcare and technology, you can gain a deeper understanding of how to improve patient outcomes with a health informatics degree.
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