Health Informatics: The Marriage of Healthcare, IT, Big Data, and Analytics
7 Min Read
In recent years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first mobile health app to allow remote monitoring of patient glucose data. Dexcom, the company behind the app, developed a small wearable device that allows continuous glucose monitoring. This makes life much easier for parents and caregivers of children who have diabetes as they can now quickly analyze and understand past and present glucose levels.
Such developments showcase one of the fastest growing areas of health care – informatics. Health informatics is the union of health care and information technology. Incorporating elements of big data, analytics, and now, mobile technology, this field provides healthcare professionals and patients with a plethora of data to increase the quality of care.
The underlying goal of health informatics is to make informed, data-driven health care decisions tailored to individuals while raising the general level of health. This has motivated app developers eager to supply the healthcare industry with apps to assist doctors, nurses, caregivers, administrators, patients, and family members.
Figure 1, for example, is an app that allows healthcare professionals to share clinical cases with each other. Its goal is to facilitate the learning, sharing, and knowledge of medical cases. If one doctor is unable to diagnose a patient, by sharing the case others can chime in based on their experience.
A Millennial Impact: The Rise of Health Informatics
The rise of informatics owes much to the growing number of millennials being treated. Baby boomers may still account for the bulk of care, but there is no ignoring the growing influence of millennials on how health care is delivered. Those within this group are accustomed to researching nearly everything online, and their influence is increasing the creation of more mobile health apps.
The rise in the number of consumers searching online for health information changes the nature of their relationships with healthcare providers. In a Makovsky/Kelton Pulse of Online Health survey, for instance, 61% of patients reported they were likely to ask for a specific prescription medication by name. Consumerism, with an emphasis on increasing patient engagement is embraced by the field of consumer health informatics. Its purpose is to enable patients to manage their own health by providing relevant information pertaining to their activity levels, food consumption, sleep patterns, and heart rate, in an easy to understand mobile health interface.
The obvious manifestation of this is the ubiquitous fitness band. By recording how long, far, and fast a person runs while showing results of calories burned and comparisons to past distances and times, the mobile health app helps moves what feels like a necessary chore to a fun activity.
While consumer apps attract much of the attention, those used inside hospitals and in the management of outpatient care are destined to revolutionize the health care field as a whole. However, the field is advancing far ahead of the availability of graduates to fill available positions.
Health informatics applies to any area where health care is improved by information technology. Health informatics has been around as long as patient records have been stored on computers. Today it goes beyond patient databases to internet-connected biomedical devices, analysis to assess the effects of preventive care, pharmaceutical research, and consumer applications to track health indicators.
Challenges and Rewards of Informatics
The benefits of health informatics are tremendous. Using big-data methods in health care can result in treatments customized to the patient based on the health profiles of previously treated patients. For example. a hospital’s electronic record system also provides faster access to details about a patient record, reducing the potential for medical errors.
The benefits of health informatics, however, are balanced by significant challenges. Any health information system must be designed with strong security to protect patient privacy under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA). Health records are valuable targets for hackers, with breaches and ransomware attacks at hospitals on the rise.
Patients Drive Their Own Care
The cutting edge of health informatics might be at its intersection with the Internet of Things. Internet-connected devices, such as wearable devices that record data on patient health, create a wealth of information to assist in treatment and analysis. The field of Internet-connected biomedical devices is still young, and examples of implementation are limited4, but in the future health care systems might incorporate data the patient collects with a wearable device in HIPAA-compliant analysis to improve treatment.
Beyond the Internet-connected health devices, compliance, customized treatment, and cybersecurity trends, the health informatics field is also giving patients more access to their own data and software vendors are moving toward cooperation to ensure their products work well together.
Those achieving a firm grounding in IT and health care as part of a degree in informatics are going to be in high demand for years to come. The University of Scranton offers a Master of Science in Health Informatics to educate graduates in data analytics, mobile health, population health, mobile health apps, and more. For more information, visit the program’s website.
Transforming Patient Care With Technology!
The Affordable Care Act provides hospitals incentives to provide better care while at the same time increasing patient satisfaction.1 Technology can play a big part in ensuring healthier and happier patients.
Quality matters: Improving healthcare quality and access to the average level of all developed nations could save the U.S. $450 billion a year.2
Today’s patients have more choices than ever. When the Cleveland Clinic surveyed patients, here’s what they said matters:3
- Being treated with respect.
- Ensuring that doctors and staff communicate – with patients and with each other.
- Providers that seem happy. Patients were less willing to share important information with stressed, unsmiling staff.
Crunch the numbers:
Cleveland Clinic assumed wait times were the biggest patient worry in its ER, but through survey data learned what patients wanted most was concern from staff.3
Technology and Patient Care
Involving patients in their care leads to higher satisfaction and better outcomes. Now technology is helping put power in patients’ hands.
- Tracking Progress: Mayo Clinic branches in three states provide postop cardiac surgery patients with iPads that transmit daily to do lists to help speed recovery.4
- Remote monitoring: New immersive technologies and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic have driven a 154% increase in telehealth services since March 2020.5
- Automating referrals: Removing roadblocks electronically prevents patient leakage and can save lives.
Avoiding errors: a 1999 report suggests that as many as 98,000 people die each year in U.S. hospitals as a result of preventable medical errors.6
Data: Moving Beyond EHRs
Digitizing clinical data about each patient is no longer enough. Healthcare data warehouses will help providers make informed, predictive decisions about patient care by bringing together a broad range of data, including:7
- Outcomes data: Breaking down outcomes by patient type or intervention among a hospital’s patients or geographic area can help predict what interventions work best.
- Lifestyle data: Consumer data including a patient’s location, demographics – even purchasing choices – can help providers determine what lifestyle changes have the greatest impact and how best to educate.
- Biometric data: Wearable technology (think Fitbits) or data aggregation software (like Apple Health) can help collect patient data during the vast majority of time they are not visiting providers.
- Genomic data: Family history supplemented with genetic data can help personalize treatments for a growing number of conditions.
All kinds of sci-fi technology is being tested or put into practice today.8
- Medical Supply Delivery by Drone: North Carolina-based health company Novant Health has turned to drone delivery to provide a no-contact drop-off of clinical supplies.
- VR Training: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center has employed virtual reality and augmented reality technologies to prepare staff for real-world medical emergencies.
- App Uses AI to Detect COVID-19: Doctors can monitor patients’ vital signs using Docdot, an app that can report oxygen levels and heart rates in as little as 45 seconds. The AI-powered app gives doctors the chance to diagnose COVID-19 remotely.
- Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Quality of Health Care in America, Kohn, L. T., Corrigan, J. M., & Donaldson, M. S. (Eds.). (2000). To err is human: Building a safer health system. National Academies Press. https://doi.org/17226/9728