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Health Informaticists: At the Intersection of People, Processes, and Technology

Image of Health Informaticists: At the Intersection of People, Processes, and Technology. “Health informaticists use data analytics to drive decision-making in health care. They have a background in both health care and how health care data is processed,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Elise Brandon, chief medical informatics officer of the Naval Health Clinic in Quantico, Virginia. “They understand electronic health records, how data is compiled, and how a health care system can interpret that data to improve outcomes.” Health informaticists play a vital part in improving military health care.

Health informaticists play a vital part in improving military health care, said U.S. Air Force Col. (Dr.) Thomas J. Cantilina, chief health informatics officer for the Defense Health Agency, and the MHS GENESIS deputy functional champion.

“Data has become the currency for health care and requires a workforce that can leverage its value,” said Cantilina. “The role of a health informaticist is to bridge the gap between the activities of health care and the capabilities of technology.”

One of the key skills of a health informaticist is understanding how data is collected translated, moved, and stored—then assisting in analyzing the data to enhance health care.

“They use data analytics to drive decision-making in health care. They have a background in both health care and how health care data is processed,” said U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Elise Brandon, chief medical informatics officer of the Naval Health Clinic in Quantico, Virginia. “They understand electronic health records, how data is compiled, and how a health care system can interpret that data to improve outcomes.”

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. (Dr.) Isaac Schwartz, chief health informatics officer at the Defense Health Network—National Capital Region, said, “An informaticist works at the intersection of people, processes, and technology. They employ clinical, organizational, and analytical expertise to identify root causes of problems and opportunities.”

Informaticists also bridge health care, information technology, and business to optimize systems for clinicians and other stakeholders, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Matthew Barnes, chief medical informatics officer with the Air Force Medical Agency. “They often bring strong skills of leadership, project management, and academics to their positions.”

U.S. Air Force Maj. Jennifer Shoemake, chief nursing informatics officer of the Air Force Medical Agency, said most informaticists maximize leadership data with clinical expertise to better understand what is happening in a health care organization.

“Most of my work is on plans, programs, and projects that are existing processes—when data is added to them, we find where they're not the most efficient, or not functioning at the level that we'd like them to,” said Shoemake. “I can add that information to the picture and look at how that process can be improved using actual data. I also bring my perspective as a clinician. I know what the provider who's on the other end of this project, or process experiences, and what would be helpful to them.”

Improving Military Health Care

Health informaticists work with the EHR vendors to continuously improve the operational medicine and the patient experience.

Health informaticists work to improve multiple facets of military health care and are involved at both the DHA headquarters level and at individual commands.

“They assist in the health information exchange between MHS GENESIS, the military electronic health record, and outside health systems,” Brandon said. “A seamless interface between electronic health records allows providers to view all medical records in a concise manner and allows military providers to see outside lab or imaging results, ER visits, and information from specialists.”

Supporting the Mission of the Defense Health Agency

Informaticists play a key role in supporting the mission of the DHA and building a modernized, integrated, and resilient health delivery system—one of the agency’s three top priority areas under its director, U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Telita Crosland, said Brandon.

“As our director says, technology will help meet patients where they are. Technology will also improve staff efficiency and satisfaction,” Brandon said. “There is a national shortage of health care workers. If we can improve the efficiency of documentation and ordering, we can decrease burnout and the demanding workload of our providers and healthcare workers.”

Schwartz stressed the importance of growing the field of health informaticists.

“We need to expand the number of people involved and the capabilities of each informaticist,” he said. “Increasing the capability and trust of informaticists across the DHA will streamline issue resolution and systems optimization.”

Force Health Protection and Surveillance

“Informaticists built most, if not all, force health protection and surveillance tools,” said Barnes. “By nature, force health protection and surveillance require systems to gather data and analyze for trends.”

Barnes said informaticists act as advocates for physicians in the IT community, and advocates for IT in the physician community.

“The DHA uses them throughout the entirety of the software development lifecycle: from gathering requirements, to validating/testing workflows, to training and championing tools, to optimizing them in sustainment, and ensuring data integrity/analysis.”

“Health informaticists work to improve how organizations can use health data. One example is monitoring for upper respiratory symptoms or other common patient complaints,” said Brandon. “By proactively looking at trends, the health care organization can provide better community care and improve patient outcomes.”

According to Brandon, this can serve as an early reporting of disease outbreaks in communities—and with the data, military hospitals and clinics can work to isolate the causes of these infections reducing harm to patients.

Informaticists also played a central part in DHA decision-making during the COVID-19 pandemic for their technical, operational, research, and developmental expertise.

“Health informaticists helped generate data and methods to display data on both national and international scale to track the incidence and prevalence of COVID-19 with hopes to flatten the curve as well as manage needed supplies at a health care facility,” said Brandon. “This data helped determine regulations on mask-wearing, staffing, and supply needs, and provided feedback to the community and health care workers on the effectiveness of their interventions.”

Future of Health Care

“Interactions with our health systems already make up 70% of a provider’s day,” said Barnes. “As we lean into a new era of great power competition, we need to make sure that our systems are also competitive. We need to consider readiness as applied to systems and processes in the field.”

“A decision is only as good as the data it is based on” Brandon said. “Clinicians and even business managers cannot and should not make decisions without a complete picture… Having good data aids in clinical decision-making and improves the DHA’s ability to function as a high-reliability health care organization whose focus is on a culture of safety and continuous process improvement.”

To learn more about health informaticists, visit DHA’s health care technology and clinical informatics pages.

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Last Updated: May 15, 2024
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