Career Awareness

January 11, 2016

Clinical Informatics: One foot in patient care, the other in Information Technology (IT)

By Career Awareness

Clinical Informatics: One foot in patient care, the other in Information Technology (IT)

Interested in patient care and Information Technology? Try Clinical Informatics—a relatively new career field! Use patient care knowledge and computer information systems (informatics) to improve clinical workflows and maximize patient safety and care quality.

  • A clinician pulls up a care process model on a computer to guide him on how to treat a patient’s new diagnosis, including medications to consider prescribing.
  • A physician checks the vital signs and pain level of all of her postsurgical patients at a glance on a mobile dashboard.
  • A nurse scans a bar code on a mother’s breast milk bottle and her baby’s ID bracelet to ensure they match, so the newborn gets the right milk.

    This information and these processes are available to Mayo Clinic clinicians through the application of clinical informatics — a relatively new discipline with one foot in patient care and the other in Information Technology (IT). Clinical informatics uses data and IT to improve clinical workflows and maximize patient safety and care quality.

    “Our current three electronic health records (EHR) and hundreds of clinical systems continuously generate enormous amounts of information,” says Dawn Milliner, M.D., chief medical information officer, Mayo Clinic. “To provide truly integrated care requires us to extract the relevant information, apply Mayo-vetted knowledge and make sure it’s delivered to our care providers wherever and whenever they need it to make clinical decisions. Clinical informatics plays a significant role in making this possible and is a high priority as we move to the new EHR.”

    Information overload  

    Increasingly, clinicians rely on electronic systems to help provide safe, effective patient care. From the moment clinicians walk into work until the time they leave, they interact with computers, tablets and other electronic systems.

    How does the vast amount of information from medical literature and Mayo knowledge get into Mayo Clinic’s EHR and come out as electronic clinical order sets, care process models, alerts, reminders, medication management and other decision support rules more than 5,000 times daily? How does that information become useable rather than cumbersome for clinicians? That’s where clinical informatics comes in.

    Information that improves health

    Clinical informaticists must understand medical decision-making and technology. They use their knowledge of patient care and computer information systems (informatics) to analyze new information and incorporate it into the clinical workflow in a way that makes it easy to take the next best step and avoid irrelevant information. Their work protects patients and leads to more efficient communication among clinicians, the EHR and other clinical systems.

    When Mayo Clinic adopted a new assessment tool for nurses to evaluate a patient’s risk for falling, nurse informaticists worked with IT to figure out how best to insert the fall risk screening into the EHR.

    Translator between the practice and IT

    “Informatics helps to embed a deep knowledge of the clinical workflow into the EHR,” says Jason Fratzke, chief nursing informatics officer, Mayo Clinic. “There is significantly less rework when nurse informaticists are involved in translating between nursing practice and IT from the start. We want our nurses to know that nursing informaticists strive to make their jobs easier and remove barriers to care — including fewer extraneous pop-ups and clicks — so more of nurses’ time is freed up to provide hands-on care for our patients.”

    "The depth of information and knowledge now available and accessible through electronic tools gives us incredible power to do things we could never have imagined five to 10 years ago," says Dr. Milliner, remarking on the strength of informatics. "Every day, patients are becoming safer and receiving better care because of informatics."

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