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Healthcare Informatics: The Role of Data in Improving Overall Patient Care and Outcomes

Healthcare workers using a PC to analyze data.

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Technology has the ability to change the way healthcare professionals provide care for patients. The World Health Organization published a 2019 report, 10 Facts on Patient Safety, that stated in high income countries as many as one in 10 patients is harmed while receiving hospital care and, of those, 50 percent are considered preventable. In order to curb medical errors, healthinformatics equips clinicians with better data to provide quality care for patients. The healthcare industry is transitioning toward technology that uses data to provide better care for patients and increase organizational efficiency.

Defining Healthcare Informatics

According to the National Information Center on Health Services Research and Health Care Technology (NICHSR), health informatics is the “interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services, delivery, management and planning.”

As it continues to grow and evolve, the healthcare industry is in need of professionals who understand technology and how it can be used to effectively analyze large data sets. The organization, analysis and understanding of medical data and terminology transforms how clinical and nonclinical healthcare workers are able to communicate and manage patients’ medical information. It is essential that nonclinical (administrators) and clinical (doctors, nurses, etc.) healthcare professionals are provided the training to use technology to access patient health records, medical terminology and data to support necessary patient treatment.

Improving Patient Care Through Healthcare Informatics

Healthcare informatics provide ease of communication between nurses, doctors, patients and healthcare administrators. Healthcare professionals are increasingly using email, texting, cloud-based software technology and instant messages to communicate more efficiently. Nurses and doctors are able to access patient’s records more quickly, as well as chart patient diagnostics within a system that is automatically updated.

By updating charts in real time, doctors and nurses are less prone to mistakes. They are able to better follow protocol, read patients’ medical notes and provide them with appropriate treatment. This efficiency enables clinicians to manage their time better. Nonclinical workers are able to access this data to provide administrative services, such as appropriately billing patients. Health informatics also benefits patients by providing them access to the information they need to effectively communicate with their healthcare providers.

In 2017, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, based in Orange, California, was a semi-finalist winner of the Healthcare Informatics Innovators Award, presented by the publication Healthcare Informatics, for leveraging data to develop an IT system that measured asthma symptoms of pediatric patients. This data was then used by clinicians to prevent emergency asthma-related situations, which reduced emergency visits by 18% and saved $1 million in emergency-room costs.

Researchers from the Center of Neurotechnology and Neurorecovery at Massachusetts General Hospital are studying the ability to utilize brain-computer interfaces (BCI) supported by artificial intelligence to treat patients suffering from neurological disorders. The team reported their findings at the 2018 World Medication Forum that “by using a BCI and artificial intelligence, [they] can decode the neural activities associated with the intended movement of one’s hand.” The implementation of brain-computer interfaces will one day assist patients with neurological disorders.

Healthcare providers are using data technology in support of medical devices, such as ambulatory telemetry monitors. These devices are worn by patients who have underlying health conditions and enable doctors to remotely analyze their vitals. If a patient has an irregular heartbeat, for example, this data is recorded, analyzed and sent to a monitoring system. The system automatically alerts the patient’s doctor if there is a life-threatening irregularity. Clinicians use glucometers to provide patients with real-time data on their glucose levels, as well as to track glucose fluctuations. They also must have a working knowledge of the application of telemetry tools, such as electrocardiograms, dialysis machines and SpO2 (oxygen saturation) to monitor patients’ health. This intersection between healthcare devices and informatics is revolutionizing how medical technology provides real-time data to both patients and clinicians.

Healthcare Informatics as an Educational Tool

Healthcare informatics is an important educational tool for doctors, nurses and patients. Prior to modern digital technology, doctors and nurses had to access medical libraries to find evidence-based studies and medical journals. Medical students spent hours in the library, reading journals and studying material on particular illnesses to familiarize themselves with medical terminology and treatments.

That all changed with the advent of healthcare informatics. Now, healthcare professionals use online databases such as Medline, EMBASE and ProQuest that offer access to thousands of books and articles. This technology enables practitioners and students to quickly access pertinent medical information through distinct keyword searches.

Digitizing medical journals and books means healthcare professionals can be more prepared and better informed. They can research and develop more accurate treatments for patients, as well as the ability to pinpoint the potential health risks an individual or community might face. Nurses can use this information to work with health educators to inform communities about potential health risks.

Healthcare professionals are also using healthcare informatics to develop data-driven algorithms to reduce treatment risks and aid in decision making. By applying algorithms, clinicians are able to analyze the potential outcomes of particular procedures or treatments, thus providing patients with the best course of action.

For example, doctors can run an algorithm to calculate when a patient should receive medical treatment for the best outcome, which assists in future planning. These algorithms assess a range of key variables such as weight, age and prior health conditions. Incorporating algorithms into clinical decision-making is still in its infancy, because large sets of data concerning a particular health condition are needed.

Prepare for a Rewarding Career with a Degree in Healthcare

The University of Central Florida is at the forefront of innovative healthcare technology, with students such as Chaitanya Renduchintala implementing healthcare informatics into research projects. Renduchintala, a UCF graduate student, is advancing the science of data architecting by developing a system that identifies motor disabilities in children. This project promises to push the health profession forward by enhancing the science of decision support systems.

UCF online healthcare degrees offer students the education, technology and techniques to embark on successful careers in the healthcare industry. Those who pursue a UCF healthcare degree find careers as nurses, data analysts, educators, engineers and beyond. They gain the necessary skills and insight to help solve the many issues that impact the healthcare field, including understanding healthcare informatics, analyzing data and how technology is shaping the future of patient care.

Discover how University of Central Florida’s online healthcare degrees can provide you with the foundation to succeed in an ever-evolving field, as well as prepare you to navigate exciting changes within the industry.