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Health Information Systems

Associate of Applied Science

Those with a dual interest in computers and medical sciences have a perfect career choice in Health Information Systems (HIS), also known as health information management (HIM). The timing for such a choice could not be better, as American medical doctors now confront a huge procedural shift from handwritten patient notes to digital records. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) mandated widespread adoption by American doctors and hospitals of electronic health records, EHRs—also known as electronic medical records, EMRs. In 2004, HHS established the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONCHIT), charged with facilitating the use of EHRs in the U.S. by 2014. This was followed in 2005 by the founding of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology (CCHIT) to create a set of standards for EHRs and their supporting networks and to certify products meeting those standards.

HIS professionals will continue to be onthe front lines of implementing this emerging technology in their day-to-day work. They will be called upon to find the best ways of sharing patient information between various providers, insurance companies and sometimes governmental agencies without compromising patient privacy. Health informatics systems will also have to incorporate clinical guidelines and standardized medical terminology in their workings. The HIS professional's ultimate goals are to improve the quality of patient care and to reduce the number of type of adverse heathcare events.

According to an analysis by the Rand Corporation, “If most hospitals and doctors’ offices adopted HIS, the potential efficiency savings for both inpatient and outpatient care could average over $77 billion per year.” Such savings are expected to come from more efficient drug use, reduced doctors’ and nurses’ administrative time, and reduced time of hospital stays as a result of better scheduling, coordination and increased safety. The HIS professional can take satisfaction in doing a job that is expected to move medical care in the U.S. forward in quality and efficiency.

Work Environment

HIS specialists are needed not only in all geographical areas of the country but within all types of medical settings, from private practices to hospitals, home health agencies to nursing homes, and mental health facilities to public health agencies. The immediate tasks confronting the HIS professional will depend partially on what stage in the transition to all-electronic handling of patient information his or her employer is currently practicing. According to a report by Medical News Today in February 2012, over 41,000 MDs and almost 2,000 hospitals have received over three billion dollars in incentive payments from HHS, Medicare and Medicaid incentive programs to adopt Health IS. The fraction of hospitals in the U.S. using EHRs went from 16% in 2009 to 35% in 2011. However, the heat is on: Doctors and hospitals will be liable for financial penalties under Medicare if they are not using EHRs by 2015.

Selection and implementation of hardware and software systems need to be accompanied by educational programs to train medical staff in their usage. The use of new systems will inevitably challenge information technology professionals to optimize how such networks operate, to facilitate their adoption and ongoing use by medical staff. One can expect workloads and schedules in this area to be very much full time, professional and demanding.

For more information, contact:

Karla Bruntzel, PhD, ATC, LAT