Whether you're a medical student on the cusp of graduation, a physician who has been practicing medicine for years, or an up-and-coming healthcare information technology (IT) specialist, you already know that it takes more than clinical skills and a degree to make it in this business. Healthcare is currently undergoing a revolution when it comes to the application of information technology. From the ways in which patient encounters are documented, stored, and accessed to the collection and analysis of outcomes data in order to create best-practice algorithms nearly every healthcare process and procedure is being radically reworked and reconfigured through the application of IT.
Because these massive changes will likely accelerate and expand in years to come, knowledge of informatics and other tech-driven disciplines will soon become part of the basic skill set at all levels of healthcare delivery, from physicians, nurses, and other providers all the way up to health system executives. In the meantime, healthcare professionals who get ahead of the health IT curve will have an advantage over their competitors.Information Is Power
"If you're talking about a clinician in a clinical environment, one of the skills people talk about often now is their [knowledge of] informatics," says Morgan Passiment, Director of Information Resources Outreach and Liaison for the American Academy of Medical Colleges
(AAMC), an organization that "represents the nation's nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems and their associated clinical physicians. Comprising only six percent of all hospitals, AAMC members operate 47% of all organ transplant centers, 60% of all level one trauma centers, 67% of all burn beds, and provide nearly half of all hospital charity care nationwide."
The AAMC realizes that increasing potential physicians' knowledge of IT must begin early in the educational process. "When it comes to medical students, there's a certain level of information literacy that [AAMC] is trying to get incorporated into the curriculum, because even though students come into the schools very quickly with technology skills, they don't really know how to evaluate information and understand whether it's valid& that not everything you get off of Google
is going to be correct," says Passiment. "There are different levels [of knowledge]: one level is actually more of an information literacy level" understanding how to evaluate information. Another level is "how do you gather information and utilize that to improve care?'"
Beyond merely possessing a rudimentary understanding of the basic dynamics of an increasingly information-driven industry, healthcare professionals who wish to thrive in a changing practice environment will soon find they must expand their understanding of the field of informatics and its applications in medicine. Informatics
is defined as "the science of information and the practice of information processing." A health informaticist solves healthcare-related information problems; for example, he or she might design better ways for healthcare providers (HCPs) to access and manage patient records, telemedicine systems, patient-tracking and billing processes, and the efficient delivery of consumer health information over the Web. A nurse informaticist "knows healthcare and the work processes within it," says Donna Gloe, Chair, ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center
) Informatics Content Expert Panel. (See our recent Web Exclusive, "Nurses are the Key to Linking IT With Better Patient Care
," for more on this topic). "That's an important part of the job. The other part is knowing the informatics part. "How do you use the database? How do you manage a project? How do you choose a vendor? How do you develop an ROI [return on investment] for this, and what are those factors?"
"The field of informatics nursing is growing very quickly because technology is so prevalent," says Todd W. Peterson, Senior Communications Specialist, ANCC. The ANCC represents more than 150,000 nurses throughout the US in 40 specialty and advanced practice areas of nursing. A national certification body of the American Nurses Association
(ANA), the ANCC offers certification in approximately 30 different nursing specialties, including certification for Informatics Nurse
"The [ANCC Content Expert Panel] of nurses who have a certification and are selected to speak for fi ve years keep [the informatics exam] current as technology changes or as the fi eld progresses," says James Finley, RN, MBA, Senior Manager for Healthcare Practice at Deloitte Consulting
in San Francisco, CA. Finley, a member of the Panel, says that although the field is expanding, informatics is still a relatively small niche in the career marketplace for nurses.