Sunday, April 12, 2009

New York Times Article on Field, Profession, and Education

There is an excellent article about the emerging informatics profession and training for it in the Sunday, April 12 New York Times by Christine Larson:

This is a well-written article that describes the emerging informatics profession in these times of the Obama stimulus package and its health information technology adoption incentives. However, as newspaper reporters often do, she got a few things slightly wrong. This does not, however, detract from the overall article, which gets across the message well.

One thing slightly wrong was her quote of me, "The health I.T. people run the servers and install software, but the informatics people are the leaders, who interpret and analyze information and work with the clinical staff." First, I would not use the word "health" in front of the phrase "I.T. people" because "health I.T." is often used synonymously with the applications of informatics, such as electronic health records and clinical decision support systems. It is the I.T. people who do run the servers and install software, but the jobs of informaticians are not limited to being leaders and working with clinicians. Those with training in informatics can perform many other jobs in the health I.T. setting, such as project management, training, implementing quality or safety projects, and much more that involves knowledge of both I.T. and health care.

The reporter also states that some institutions have added programs within the last four years. OHSU's first degree program was actually launched in 1996, and we have been teaching via distance learning since 1999.

While the reporter rightly notes that educational programs "can bear a bewildering variety of names," I would not agree that medical and biomedical informatics are the same, nor that they only "focus on data that doctors need for treating patients." I would argue that they focus on more than just those things. Likewise, I would not completely agree with the definition that health informatics "programs often emphasize clinical data and health records." However, I do completely concur with her statement, "Even among programs with the same name, the emphasis may vary."

As most people know, I consider the terms "biomedical and health informatics" or "biomedical informatics" to be the broad umbrella terms. Subsumed under those are "medical informatics" or "clinical informatics," which refer to informatics applied in the clinical setting. "Health informatics" is somewhat orthogonal, which may also involve a focus on non-clinical aspects of informatics, such as personal health. One thing is certain: Our field needs to end this bewilderment and standardize our definitions!

Nonetheless, I believe this reporter did an excellent job overall, and it is great to see an article on our field and emerging profession in a prominent paper like the New York Times.

1 comment:

  1. You summarized three major barriers to EHR adoption in your blog of May 3. My observation is:

    1. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) attempts to assist the users overcome the first barrier - 'Cost and return on investment' to some extent.

    2. But, the second barrier, 'IT and informatics support' should be relatively simpler to clear. The computer technology has assisted businesses in other areas and I am convinced that Health Industry should be no different. If the remotely connected support personnel can help customers in Kansas state,
    why can't the under-employed IT engineers in Ohio assist remote physicians' practices in Oregon?

    3. The third barrier, 'Lack of interoperability' is an obvious but tricky one. A multi-pronged approach is required to meet this challenge. I am not an expert in the HL7 (Health Level 7) but this standard attempts to make diverse medical devices and HIT systems talk to each other. Wikipedia entry to this standard is here:
    Therefore, it appears that all vendors MUST be willing to operate their services on HL-7.
    If the vendors do not provide it then, then customers, the health care practices must demand it.