Thursday, October 7, 2010

What is health informatics?

There is a lot of confusion about what exactly is health informatics - let me try and explain in a simplistic manner.

At the most basic level it is the discipline that creates a bridge between the clinical domains of knowledge and the domain of information technology.

It is sometimes hard to give a simple definition, but the American Medical Informatics Association has described it as follows:

"An emerging interdisciplinary and diverse field that:
  • combines health sciences (such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and allied health) with computer science, management and decision science, biostatistics, engineering and information technology.
  • solves problems in health care delivery, pharmaceutical, biomedical and health sciences research, health education and clinical decision making
  • is essential in all aspects of health care and biomedicine"

The cornerstones of health informatics are the ability to:

  • analyze data
  • manage knowledge
  • undertake data acquisition and representation
  • manage change
  • integrate information

Health informatics has a number of internal speciality areas, such as Medical/Clinical informatics, bioinformatics, nursing informatics, dental informatics, public health informatics and veterinary informatics.

Careers in health informatics exist in clinical care and research, personal health management for patients and consumers, public and population health, health policy and translational science. Informaticists help in the design, implementation, and use of systems that manage the increasingly complex and voluminous information in health care delivery and research.

There is an estimated need for 10,000 health informatics professionals in the next 5 years who will work in industry, academic institutinos, community based organizations, government agencies and the military, health care facilities, private practice, research organizations and private health practices.

This is an expanding and exciting field where high quality jobs are plentiful. It is not surprising that so many people are retraining and entering the profession of health informatics.

What is the truth about Health Reform?

Now that health reform is with us I thought it was worthwhile trying to summarize what I understand to be the truth about what it will mean. There are a number of pros and cons, and some areas that seem to be of equivocal benefit, depending on our personal views, so here is a brief summary...........

The positive aspects:
  • 95% of legal US citizens will have health insurance, compared to 83% now - an increase of 32 million people
  • Insurers cannot stop paying for people who are sick, even if they lose their jobs
  • People with previously known medical conditions cannot be refused health insurance
  • People who cannot afford health insurance will be able to obtain it relatively cheaply
  • Medicaid will expand significantly, and children will be able to stay on their parents insurance until they are 26

The negative aspects:
  • Most of the bill won't go into effect until 2014
  • The costs will be about $94 billion per year for the first 10 years - but these will be more than covered by cost savings and tax increases
  • Some states will have an increase in the cost of health insurance
  • The Individual Mandate means that you either have to buy health insurance of have a $2.5% tax increase
  • There is an extra tax on very expensive health insurance plans and for high income people

The equivocal issues:
  • The public option is not an option
  • More government involvement in healthcare, but remember that governments already pay for more than 65% of our healthcare, and hopefully this bill will reduce medical costs in the long run
  • There is no federal money for abortion
  • The extra regulation on insurance companies will probably increase costs, but will certainly increase quality, and will make sure that they spend at least 80% of their receipts on actual healthcare
  • Doctors will have increased access to information about which treatments are most cost-effective
  • Large employers have to offer insurance to all their employees or pay a fee

There are lots of other parts of health reform, but hopefully this very simple guide is helpful.