Health Informatics “links information technology, communications and healthcare to improve the quality and safety of patient care,” according to the University of South Florida’s online health website.
Health data acquisition, use, and storage through health informatics (HI) science promotes quicker, more accessible data sharing among patients and healthcare providers. In sum, HI promises better patient care.
How does data improve relationships? Through shared knowledge—better relationships means better care. For patients, knowledge is not only power. It’s connection, control, and community.
Unlike previous notions of professional healthcare, where doctors controlled every step of the patient care path from diagnosis to cure, today quality patient care is patient-centered. With the help of HI, data sharing between patient and physician, physician and other physicians, and even patients with other patients fosters the circle of reciprocity in team building and goal achievement–all for the sake of patient care and caring.
For example, Electronic Health Records (EHRs) share patient information with all of a patient’s providers—specialists, pharmacists, imagists, and therapists. Also, research hospitals use patient records to teach or discover new therapies and cures. And secure patient portals allow patients to communicate with clinicians by texts or emails. All of these afford convenience and connection, alleviating tedious paper processing and wait times to see doctors, get answers, or transfer records from one office to another.
Yet not only convenience but control matters to people whose lives feel out of control due to injury or illness. Websites, like WebMD and PubMed (or specific physician-referred credible sites and resources) supply patients with information to supplement professional advice and explanations. Social media sites and community boards where patients share their information and experiences to others do the same.
Readily available knowledge empowers patients to be prepared for conversations with their doctors, knowing the right questions to ask and details to deliver. The bigger the painted picture, the more likely all critical clues come to light. And patient peace of mind comes with doing all possible to achieve better outcomes.
All of these data-conveying channels improve patient care efficiency, speed, safety, effectiveness, and collaboration.
But especially, when the patient is the driving force of information,self-care, and monitoring necessary to facilitate diagnoses, treatments, and cures, patients are in control over their own destiny. They are not only part of the healthcare team but the leader. Empowering patients with respect and responsibility for their own care leads to patient physical well being and emotional satisfaction.
1. Data Sharing Paints a Complete Picture
Healthcare providers now recognize that patient needs, values, and choices comprise integral parts of the total care plan. Patients must be consulted about their relationships and total circumstances when devising any action plan. People are not the sum total of their organs and physiological systems but a complex of emotional, relational, and spiritual networks that affect health too.
2. Electronic Systems
How do providers get the entire patient profile? Through many avenues of easy data transfer that together form the full patient picture and, more importantly, a relationship.
A 2014 national survey of physicians revealed that 75% of physicians use Electronic Medical Records (EMRs) or EHRs, and 65% reported improved patient care using them. Anther survey reported higher. 75% believed having records available at point of care, thanks to EHRs, allowed them to deliver quality care.
Physicians use EHRs to track changes in blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, and other values to manage chronic illness more closely. They also provide treatment goals and reminders to physicians when preventative screenings or other measures are due. And an integrated system that includes pharmacy, lab, and imaging, cuts down on duplication and cost. All of this amounts to better practices that help high risk patients control their conditions and the patient perception of quality care.
How else do EHRs produce better outcomes? EHRs are not merely static records, like paper reports. They correlate and compute information so that a patient with noted allergies, for instance, doesn’t ingest newly-prescribed medication that conflicts with current medications. The EHR alerts the treating physician of possible conflicts. Moreover, say, the same patient with allergies shows up in the emergency room with a broken arm. The EHR warns the ER doctor of the primary care doctor’s allergy diagnosis and treatment to safely guide the ER doctor’s actions. EHR information is not mere convenience, in this instance, but a life saver.
Aside from EHRs, patients transmit data in electronic personal health records (PHRs), which are electronic sharing tools for patients to exchange their health information with their physicians through a cloud-based system or an integrated EHR product. And web portals, which allow patients and clinicians to safely communicate, make appointments, place pharmacy orders, and access health records, lab results, and images facilitate easy communication. Some practitioners or groups use the portals to disseminate health education or health coaching also.
The easy access through these electronic means—and doctor-patient sharing—creates the perception that patients have more and more satisfying contact with their medical providers. This kind of convenience and transparency create trust.
3. Surveys and Questionnaires
Patient self-reporting about health and lifestyle conditions through electronic patient-reported outcomes (ePROs) or health-related quality of life (HRQOL) surveys likewise improve patient-physician communication and treatment. The reported information assists medical personnel in assessing symptoms easily and regularly. Customizable assessments that score and update automatically, also satisfy patients with immediate access to progress, follow-up, and achievements—right from their own pc, tablet, or mobile phone. .
4. The Internet and Health Literacy
The most prodigious vehicle of exchange is the Internet.
Patients seek health information about procedures, process, treatments, and symptoms online, which makes for more informed and better prepared patients. Engaged patients armed with knowledge take a more commanding role in their own care. Family members also benefit from shared information that may affect inherited or shared traits.
5. Social Media
Seekers get community, counsel, and comfort here. Education, information-gathering, commiseration, and socializing across geographical boundaries on the Internet, in chat rooms, discussion boards, blogs, and online support groups helps patients learn, answer questions, and support one another. People with similar illnesses, treatments, and experiences not only provide the comfort of support but help patients feel less isolated and uninformed.
YouTube videos, podcasts, and webinars provide demonstrations of care or coping strategies as well as opportunities to have questions answered in real time.
Facebook groups for survivors or sufferers of specific diseases discuss the latest treatments and research. Online calendars supply a convenient place to track appointments and medication requirements. And even doctors often research online rather than search through PubMed to inform themselves and their patients.
Mobile apps or mHealth apps not only transmit data to physicians for closer monitoring of patients with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, hypertension, obesity, and high cholesterol but also allow patients to chronicle their own progress. Wearables that track exercise, heart rate, and food intake provide valuable data for physicians.
7. After Care
Electronic hospital discharge instructions and long-term cancer survivor care can now all be supplied through electronic interactive databases that coordinate follow up care among primary care doctors and specialists. Templates designed for treatment plans that may be updated and amended as long-term aftercare progresses help patients and physicians maintain communication and information access.
Remember, It’s a Two-Way Relationship
The patient-doctor relationship is no longer unilateral. Bilateral information exchange characterizes the relationship as one of partnership and collaboration, not dictation. Direct communication between doctors and their patients removes the barriers that previously existed and social media, like Twitter, avails the public to physicians presenting medical information and their personalities.
Health care providers with complete access to the total, accurate patient picture do their jobs better. They can diagnose and pinpoint treatment more accurately, with fewer errors. As a result, patients get better medical care.
Automated data flow improves access to information and services, increases safety and efficiency, promotes coordination and collaboration, but most importantly, empowers patients and fosters trust. And mutual trust is the cornerstone of a healthy patient-physician relationship.