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Meet Online Healthcare Informatics Program Director Kendall Cortelyou

Healthcare workers using a PC to analyze data.

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The healthcare industry is always evolving and searching for ways to improve. One area, in particular, that is driving this advancement is healthcare informatics. This field applies technology and computer systems to healthcare to improve the quality and safety of care and delivery. Kendall Cortelyou is an associate professor and program director for UCF Online’s Master’s in Healthcare Informatics program. This program prepares future professionals to lead this industry and create innovative ways for how we use this technology and the data that has become available through it. Cortelyou is here to share her experience in the industry and what you can expect when you earn this online master’s degree.

What is healthcare informatics?

Healthcare Informatics is the intersection of healthcare and technology. When you visit the doctor, you might notice that they have a computer, laptop or iPad with them during your visit—this is all fairly new for the most part. From 2009 until now, we’ve seen a huge increase in providers using health information technology at the bedside.

Informatics goes a step further than that. Informatics uses the data that’s coming out of those systems to impact change. It’s not just clinical data, it’s also business data, pharmaceutical data and many other things. When you think about your own personal interactions with the healthcare system, every prescription that you filled in your entire life and every little appointment, it’s a combination of all of that. Plus, now we’re counting genomes—we’ve got people’s genetics all tied up into the informatics puzzle.

Beyond just helping to identify people who might have diabetes or are at risk of having a heart attack, healthcare informatics also aims to help find a better way to treat people that have certain diseases. There are all kinds of things that we can do with the data that comes out of health information management systems—and that’s what informatics professionals do.

How would you describe your career to an individual you just met?

I am a researcher focusing on healthcare informatics and opioid-use disorder. I do research with a local nonprofit on opioid-use disorder; using data, we can leverage it to find people who are suffering before they get to the emergency room and before they overdose. So there is a lot of really interesting research in that regard. I also teach in the information systems class in the Executive Masters of Health Administration program.

What is your career passion?

Right now my passion is helping people who are suffering from opioid-use disorder and their families. For the last nine months, I have immersed myself in this research and how healthcare informatics can impact it. It has definitely become my passion in all things.

What’s your healthcare informatics story? What got you passionate about this field and into it?

Throughout my academic career I’ve always had an interest in information systems. I started the healthcare informatics program in 2009; I was tapped to start the program because I always had a strong research interest in information systems, but I also have a strong program-administration background, as well.

In 2009, the university got a very large grant from the office of the national coordinator for health information technology, which is a government program, to start something called the UCF Regional Extension Center. I was brought on board as a part-time employee doing their workforce development. Our focus at these centers was to bring physicians from hospitals up to date on meaningful use of electronic health records. We went out into physicians’ offices primarily and helped them adopt electronic health records.

Ever since then I’ve been working in the community and with providers to feel comfortable using health-information technology. Now, we’re focusing on trying to better use the data that is coming out of those systems to make the improved decisions that I discussed earlier.

Who would you say is the most impacted by the work that is done in this field? Is it the doctors that use these systems, the patient or the people who are creating the systems?

I would say the person that is ultimately going to benefit from all of the work that is being done is the patient. The idea is that we learn how to treat patients better. We learn how to treat the disease they have in a more efficient and productive manner, using the data that we have. That is the ultimate goal.

However, along the way as we’re making things more efficient and effective, the provider is getting a benefit, but the people who are paying for this care are getting a huge benefit; there are many stakeholders and people who get a lot out of what informatics professionals do, but the end goal is to improve the quality of life for the patient.

What are some roles people work in with this degree?

There are a lot of different things that people do and a lot of different roles inside a hospital as an analyst. Most people come out as the job title “analyst” and they are either a clinical analyst or business analyst or something along those lines. They work in hospitals, doctors offices, insurance offices and similar spaces across the board. If there is a healthcare organization and they have data, they have a need for someone to help them with that information.

What direction do you see this industry going in the future?

I think we’re going to move increasingly into the area of predictive analytics. More and more, we’re going to try to intercept people before they get sick as we get more data to understand the disease process better. As an industry we’re trying to move toward predictive analytics, artificial intelligence, machine learning and those kinds of tools that will help in prevention as opposed to only addressing people once they are actually sick.

Why should someone choose UCF for their healthcare informatics master’s degree?

Well, because we’re the best! The really unique thing that the informatics program at UCF has is a grant that allows us to pay for and provide training for certifications for students who graduate from UCF.

For example, if you go through the informatics program and you’re interested in project management, you can not only earn your master’s degree, but you can also earn the necessary continuing education to sit for a project management credential— and we will not just pay for all of that continuing education, but also for you to take the exam. It is a huge benefit that we have the resources to help people get credentials. We use the same money to help our students by buying the actual, real-world data that they will use when they graduate. That’s a huge benefit because dummy data is not the same. Using real data throughout your program makes a big difference in what the students learn and how able they are to hit the pavement running when they graduate.

I should also mention that we take our students to conferences. At least once a year, we take a group of students to the Health Information and Management System Society (HIMSS) annual meeting and the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) annual meeting. Those two meetings are beneficial to students because they give them the opportunity to go out and meet the healthcare professionals they will interview with for jobs, network and they also get to see us and their cohort members in person.

What skills would you say individuals need to excel in this industry and how would you say UCF provides its students with those skills?

Students need to have strong communication and interpersonal skills in addition to the hard skills such as data analysis. It is important that they can relay the information that they have to people that are not technical. We do this through applied learning, using real data and then transforming it into briefs designed for executives.

This program is offered fully online. Can you discuss the support you and your colleagues provide to the students who don’t come to campus for class?

All of the faculty have offices on campus. Everyone will accommodate student schedules. We have regular office hours and then, of course, we have excellent support offered through the division of online learning, as well.

What’s something you would want the individuals who enter this program to know about the industry, that you didn’t know coming in?

I think it’s important to know that you can make a change in healthcare and that you can impact and affect people’s lives without needing to be at the bedside. You can improve the delivery of healthcare. You can make people healthy without having to physically touch them. It’s a very rewarding experience. It’s more than just computers because the data isn’t just numbers, it’s a person.

What are your top three pieces of advice that you would give someone who is interested in pursuing a career in healthcare informatics?

  1. Do their homework on the programs they are interested in.
  2. Make sure the program they are interested in is accredited because this will mean that they are being taught the right things at the appropriate standard.
  3. Talk to people in the industry about what they do and try to figure out early on what area of healthcare informatics they would like to pursue.

It is a really broad field and programs are broad and you should do the research to figure out what you want to do as early in the process as possible.

You’ve sold me on the program! How do I get started?

If you are interested in becoming a healthcare informatics student, you can reach out to the UCF Online Connect Center or you can visit our website and put in a request for information. You can apply at graduate.ucf.edu and select the healthcare informatics program. You’ll need a resume, a letter stating why you want to pursue healthcare informatics and a transcript from your undergraduate degree.

Completing this program through UCF Online means you’ll receive the training and experience necessary to walk across the graduation stage and right into a position that will impact the future of healthcare.