Who Cares About Health Informatics? or “I didn’t become a nurse to work on computers”

15 February 2012

Good health enables us to make the most out of life, to enjoy ourselves and to work, play and relax more effectively. In order to maintain this good health, sooner or later all of us are likely to need to visit a doctor, to go into hospital for an operation, or to visit and care for someone who is unwell.  In some cases we will attend health centers regularly for a course of treatment or we will want to know more about what we should do to stay healthy or why we feel the way we do.

At times like these we trust that our doctors, nurses and the other people who work in the health system provide us with care and service that minimises the disruption to our daily lives and gives us a good outcome. We should realistically expect that healthcare providers will work as a team to give us the best possible advice and treatment.

However, there are some statistics which might not fill us with confidence. Studies indicate that the challenges the health care system faces in many developed nations are similar to those that are faced in the USA1:

  • Consumers report a poor experience of the services offered by healthcare providers2
  • It is estimated that between 75and 150,000 people die each year from the care they receive and through medical errors in the US healthcare system3.
  • In the US, medical errors are the fifth leading cause of death today4.
  • In two major US teaching hospitals adverse events related to medicines, and that were preventable, resulted in increased costs of about $2.8 million per year5.

of course these startling statistics should not put us off seeking professional medical help from well-educated, health professionals. In fact, it’s because we collect such statistics that Western medicine is increasingly “evidence-based” and reliable. We monitor, measure and and learn, continually improving as we go.

It is also in our power to make a contribution even when we are not healthcare professionals. The first step is for patients and everyone who works in the healthcare system to ask themselves “how can I make a difference?”.

The discipline of health informatics offers some of the answers.

Not all of medical misadventure issues can be solved by health informatics, however we know that, if the people who care for us have the right information when they are making decisions about our care, many mistakes can be avoided.

When a doctor makes a diagnosis of our complaints, he is more likely to be correct in that diagnosis if all of the relevant information is available to him. In some cases if the doctor does not know some important information, like family history, our allergies, or our social circumstances, a diagnosis may be incomplete or even wrong.

For us to receive really good healthcare then all of the people who work to provide that care to us must work as a part of a team who share their knowledge about us and communicate effectively with each other.

Better information (information that is relevant and available when and where a decision is being made) leads invariably, to better decisions.

It is my on-going  aim to prepare hospitals and healthcare providers  to answer this question. It is in the area of support for health informatics that I have built, and continue to build, a strong network of resources and capabilities.

Health workers want patients to get better more quickly and to have the best possible experience when they need help. Health informatics is the term we use to describe how information and technology can help people to do their jobs in the best way to support these goals.

Many of us live in a world today where our needs and wants are anticipated often before we know them ourselves. When we use health informatics to introduce computers to hospitals and patient care, this is what we aim to achieve.  We hope to revolutionize the way that care is delivered by reducing the tedious, unsatisfying work, and helping people to anticipate and deliver the right care to patients, when and where they need it.  We have a vision of effective, efficient, staff working smarter and learning from experience.

Health informatics is how we can be sure that patients don’t miss appointments, that blood tests are only done when necessary, that the correct medicines are prescribed, and that the best treatments are given. But these things can only happen if the right information and all of the necessary information is collected in the computer systems that we use.

All of us have a part to play. As patients we must ensure that we give full and correct information. As booking clerks we have a duty to record information correctly and to make sure patients understand where to go, who to see and when they must come. As administrators we must look for opportunities to make our system better for patients, better for staff, and better for our managers. And as healthcare professionals we must critically review the care we have provided and seek the answer to the most important question of all:

“How can we do it better next time?”.

André Snoxall.

[1] World Health Organization. “Box 2.5 Patient safety” Working together for health: The World Health report 2006 Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/whr/2006/whr06_en.pdf
[2] Rauch. J. If Air Travel Worked Like Health CareRetrieved from:
[3] Bunker JP, Frazier HS, Mosteller F. Improving health: measuring the effects of medical care. Milbank Q 1994;72:225–58.
[4] Mark Brown. (2007, June 23). “Medical Error Is The Fifth-Leading Cause Of Death In The U.S” Medical News Today. Retrieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/releases/75042.php.
[5] Bates, David W.; Spell, Nathan; Cullen, David J., et al. The Costs of Adverse Drug Events in Hospitalized Patients. JAMA. 277:307–311, 1997.

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