How Health Informatics Can Improve Patient Care

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Why Should Doctors and Nurses Care About Informatics?

There are people who believe that we should care are about information technology (IT) because it is IT, and therefore it is wonderful. They generally wear anoraks, collect locomotive numbers and talk fluent Hungarian. For the rest of us, we care about things that make our lives better, easier, and occasionally just more fun.

I prefer to use the term informatics instead. Health informatics, the application of IT within health care has been defined as:

“The knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and to promote health”.

In other words it’s not just about computers!

For many people, their experience with trying to use information within the health sector has been one of frustration. However, it doesn’t have to be like this. Informatics has the potential to help us do many desirable things:

  • Provide accurate information at the point where it is needed
  • Remove the need to keep recording the same data again and again and again
  • Facilitate joined up care
  • Help clinicians and patients make better decisions
  • Eliminate transcription errors
  • Improve decision making
  • Manage a patient journey to reduce delays

In the past, enthusiasts have tended to create the impression that these things will happen without effort, and the benefits of the technology have been rather oversold. On the other hand, IT is in widespread use already in health care systems around the world. However, IT brings no benefit by itself.

The benefits accrue from working in different ways facilitated by the technology. This means that health care workers will have to change the ways that they work. That’s the bad news. The good news is that through that change the staff and the patients will get to a better place.

Why Do Our Leaders Care About Informatics?

Our leaders may have a rather different agenda. All first world national health care systems face a range of challenges:

  • ageing population which may increase health care needs
  • reduced working population generating income to pay for health and care systems
  • increasingly sophisticated health technology, which is generally more expensive
  • people living longer so consuming health care resources for longer

Traditionally, health care expenditure is measured as the percentage of the national wealth, measured as gross national product. Measured in this way, health care costs are rising all over the world.

Faced with such challenges, Governments are seeking ways to ensure that the health care system remains economically viable. Governments see IT as a way of enabling health care systems to work smarter by:

  • reducing waste
  • reducing duplication of effort
  • reducing manpower
  • replacing expensive roles with cheaper roles plus decision support
  • reducing adverse events

Frankly, you or may not believe that this is true. What it means for clinical staff is that Governments are pouring money into IT. This creates opportunities for clinical staff to use it for improving patient care, irrespective of anyone else’s agenda.

Further reading

Gillies AC (2006) The Clinicians Guide for Surviving IT, Radcliffe Publishing, Abingdon

Gillies AC(2008) The Legal and Ethical Changes in the NHS Landscape Accompanying the Policy Shift from Paper-Based Health Records to Electronic Health Records Studies in Ethics, Law and Technology, Vol 2 no1 article 4