What are Health Informatics?
Many health professionals working in the NHS today will admit to not understanding what is meant by the term informatics. When pressed for a definition, most people will probably say that it is something to do with information and communication technology (ICT) — meaning the use of computers. Many will have encountered the National Programme for IT (NPfIT) which is being delivered by NHS Connecting for Health (NHSCFH) and this may have moulded their perceptions of what informatics encompasses.
Wikipedia defines informatics as: ‘the science of information, the practice of information processing, and the engineering of information systems’.
The term health informatics has been in use in the NHS for approximately 15 years and the current accepted definition is: ‘The knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and to promote health.’
(Making Information Count, A Human Resources Strategy for Health Informatics Professionals, DH, 2002).
The number of professionals working in the heath informatics disciplines in 2011 is estimated at 50,000, which makes it the second largest workforce in the NHS after the clinical professions.
The Health Informatics Career Framework (HICF) outlines more than a hundred job roles that go to make up the informatics professions over seven specialisms.
Informatics is not just about technology, and ICT is just one of the seven specialisms to be found on the HICF. ICT is the enabler and, as such, has delivered great advances in the way information is collected, managed and used in recent years. Informatics, however, is the business practice that is enhanced by the new technologies and it is this business practice that drives technological innovations just as much as the other way around.
The Document ‘Learning to Manage Health Information’ sets out a framework of learning that clinicians can use as a guide to ensuring they have the appropriate knowledge to enable them to understand the use of informatics and is a good starting point for a clinician who considers themselves to be a beginner in the field. ‘Learning to Manage Health Information’ is being refreshed in 2011 with a view to being republished in 2012. Please click on the link below to see the document in full:
Why are Health Informatics Important?
As the transition to a modern, technology enabled NHS gains momentum, healthcare will need to reinvent the way in which it collects, manages, and shares health information. The change will require a substantial investment in healthcare infrastructure through capital, time, and resources. But, most importantly, it will require an investment in people.
Collecting, using and managing information effectively is a key element of any clinician’s work. Although clinicians do not have to be informatics specialists they do need to have a good working understanding of informatics processes in the same way that they need to understand financial and communication processes, for example, without having to be a finance officer or communications manager. Good informatics practice is one of the common threads running through any clinical role. Radiographers are constantly working with information and not just the clinical content that is revealed by the images that are produced. Information needs to be managed to ensure the correct images are taken of the correct part of the correct patient. Once the images have been produced, they need to be shown to the relevant people in order for decisions to be made to continue the care pathway. All of this needs to be done in accordance with the principles of information governance and in a way that ensures the images are maintained in the correct format and are readily accessible to those who need to review them whilst the patients consent and confidentiality is maintained at all times.
It is therefore extremely important that clinicians are aware of the information processes that they use in their everyday work and assess their capability to be able to operate safely and effectively.
What development opportunities are available?
A full range of developmental opportunities are available to health informaticians as part of the ongoing drive towards true professional status which is being coordinated by the Department of Health Informatics Development (DHID) directorate. At the same time consideration is also being given to groups involved in clinical work, including radiographers, who do not need to be considered specialists but need an awareness and understanding of informatics to support their daily delivery of care. Recent academic research indicates that many graduates leaving medical, allied health professional and nursing courses are underprepared to use healthcare technologies.
Sixty-three per cent of nursing and AHP graduates and 33% of medical graduates reported their courses would have benefited from more informatics content, based on the framework set out in ‘Learning to Manage Health Information’.
(Bartholomew, N. (2009) Scoping the Provision of ICT and Health Informatics Education within HEI Curricula in the West Midlands SHA Region. Clinical Pathway Group, West Midlands Programme for IT. Unpublished.)
A number of free online learning modules have been developed to help people who do not consider them to be specialist informaticians become more aware of informatics and how it impacts on their daily working life. These modules are located within the NHS IG Training Tool
The initial set of modules that is mandatory for all NHS staff are contained in the ‘Information Governance and Information Governance Management’ section. There are five learning modules in this section which include:
- Introduction to Information Governance;
- Information Governance: The Beginners Guide;
- Access to Information and Information Sharing in the NHS;
- Introduction to Information Governance for GPs;
- Introduction to Information Governance for Medical Secretaries.
The first three of these would be of value to radiographers.
A second set of modules is contained under the heading ‘Embedding Informatics in the NHS’
These modules are not mandatory but have been designed to provide useful information to non-informatics staff. These modules are:
- Clinical Information Systems;
- E-Health – The Future Direction;
- The Language of Health – Clinical Coding and Terminology.
All of the modules in the IG Training Tool consist of a short assessment and individuals who attain the pass mark or better will be able to print out a certificate.
Individuals are able to register for these modules but if organisations register their staff as an entity, they will be able to track uptake and progress of all staff who register thus enhancing their local workforce development process. Further information can be obtained from the eICE team.
The practice of informatics is required at different levels for all professionals, not just specialists. As technology develops there are more ways that people need to be involved. By developing awareness and some basic understanding all clinicians will be able to improve the care they give to their patients or clients thus improving their outcomes.
The eICE team is always available to discuss these issues further with any individuals or organisations that are interested in looking at their staff development and can be contacted by email.