My Spell Check doesn’t recognize “Health Informatics”

My post title reflects microsoft word’s ignorance and also my own ignorance before I came to U of M.  At its most basic, health informatics studies, creates and utilizes technology to monitor, improve and communicate health information. This is a big undertaking and because of that, this field is rapidly expanding in knowledge and opportunities for individuals from a wide array of disciplines to contribute- Epidemiologists, Public Administrators,Information Technologists, Health Behavior specialists and many more.
In my introductory class for Health Informatics our study was as far ranging as the field itself. We studied the use of computers, programs, apps and tools within biomedical research, public health work, medical care, consumer healthcare and the work being done to improve health information infrastructure.

Health informatics in the United States is  rapidly growing partially because of the HITECH act passed by President Obama in 2009. This act provided money to the Department of Health and Human Services to fund hospitals and other medicare recipient agencies with the funding to implement electronic health records systems. Electronic health record (EHR) systems are medical files held in a set of interconnected computers and devices that allow doctors, practioners, and sometimes patients to edit and view those files. As a result, approximately 80% of all primary care facilities and hospitals in the United States now have digital medical records and computer systems to support them. Consequently, we now have the ability to more quickly exchange  health information within hospitals and primary care organizations, further improving quality of care by increasing communication speed amongst practitioners, decreasing drug interactions through timely notifications, and increasing medical computers’ ability to be a knowledge bank for everyone connected to them.

Public Health informatics was not included in the HITECH act, but that’s because it’s been ahead of the game for a while now. From 2000-2005 the CDC’s National Electronic Disease Surveillance System aided states in implementing their NEDSS system which would allow them to collect, forward and store the data that would  be reported to the CDC. 46 states are now a part of this system in which hospitals and doctors offices share a common network with local health departments, allowing them to pass on health data that eventually makes its way to the CDC. This is a great system, but not without its challenges, those being that not all states participate in the system and lack of interoperability. Interoperability is the ability of information from one computer system to be transferred to another computer system and have that information arrive in the way that it left. Think of it as a big game of telephone played between the local health department and the CDC computer system. Can the message “10 primary cases of varicella zoster virus this month” reach the CDC computers without it becoming “100 cases herpes zoster viruses this month” or “10 primary cases. Varicella zoster virus this month.”? That is a loose example of  measuring of interoperability.

If anything I have mentioned in this post has piqued your interest at all, I highly recommend seeking out more information on the exciting field of health informatics. There’s a place here for everyone, and there’s a lot of amazing work to be done!

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