This blog explores health informatics—a collaborative activity connecting people, process, and technologies to produce trusted data for better decision-making.
By Dawn Paulson, MJ, RHIA, CHPS
The shape of the healthcare industry is changing rapidly, health information management (HIM) professionals find themselves in an excellent position to seize a number of potential future roles as they map out potential career paths—including informatics. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Ashley Downing, RHIA, CPHIMS, application lead in the department of clinical informatics at Aspirus, Inc. in Wausau, WI, about her transition as an HIM professional into an informatics role. Downing’s work history is in both HIM and information systems (IS).
Like in every other healthcare organization, identifying the appropriate workflow for the development of electronic health record (EHR) content “takes a village” at Downing’s organization. Their Epic Clinical Team meets weekly to review new content requests to determine appropriateness, format, location, and other factors of content build within the EHR. Those involved include not only IS and operations staff, but HIM, compliance, quality, physician representation, and pharmacy—among others—as well. The team often needs to consider whether something that has been requested is actually needed in the EHR, or whether it is simply wanted.
The clinical informatics department where Downing works serves to bridge the gap between operations and IS. Downing’s team asks the “why” questions to drill down to the fundamental workflow that will help identify exactly what is needed. They conduct research to provide options to operations to allow them to participate in decision-making. That information is relayed to the content builders.
Her background in HIM is a valuable asset in Downing’s informatics role. “The benefit that the HIM professional has is they have skill sets in many different areas: data management/data integrity, quality, coding, reimbursement, release of information, legal aspects of the EHR, etc,” Downing said. “In addition, what others don’t often understand is that HIM professionals have the clinical education in anatomy and physiology, pathophysiology and pharmacology, and medical terminology—much of what is required for other clinical professions. When HIM professionals bring all our skill sets forward, that is where we break down the walls.”
There were skills she needed to develop as she stepped into her new informatics role, as well. “Where HIM professionals may need to strengthen their skillset is in the application of information systems,” Downing explained. “If your entire world is the EHR and you don’t know how or why the data got there, how can you be accountable for it?”
An informatics professional should know the EHR system inside and out; they know how the data is collected, they know how and where the data is stored, and they know how the data can produce valued information leading to the best possible patient care. That is what “knowing your EHR inside and out” is all about.
So, what are some of the things that Downing needs to keep in mind when it comes to data?
- Analytics: We are data-rich, but information-poor. We need to make sure all this data that we are creating and maintaining is value-added.
- Validation: Having clean data by validating its accuracy. Only with validation is there actual meaning to the data, and we can then create knowledge and wisdom in our decision-making process.
- Usability: Does it make sense? What is the need versus the want? Asking all the questions to build the story, so that the technical teams can build the tools to collect meaningful data.
Professionals with a background in HIM are in a prime position to step up and fill informatics roles. The CAHIIM-approved curriculum for the Baccalaureate and Associate degree HIM programs include the following domains, which provide a good educational background for those who are considering a career path that includes informatics:
- Data Content, Structure & Standards (Information Governance) and Informatics
- Analytics and Data Use
Whether you are a new graduate or a seasoned HIM professional, a role in informatics is a great option to consider for those who are eager to truly “know their EHR inside and out.”
Dawn Paulson (firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of informatics at AHIMA.