Not missing the “M”

Cryptic headline, eh? Maybe it grabbed your attention. True, it doesn’t reveal much about what’s on my mind lately… Glad you asked….

While I am not about to divulge details or to impugn anyone’s motives or intent, let’s just say that this fall, one of the “hats” I wore previously is perched on the hat rack, duration not yet clear. That would be as an adjunct instructor in health informatics. Note that this refers just to the part-time application of that calling in the academic setting. As a professional informatics and analytics evangelist, I do lots of informal teaching and coaching in my full-time job. I am also engaged in bringing along a team member who’s a novice nurse informaticist, and there are prospects of adding more to the team.

So, while I take some time off from the academic discipline of health informatics, I get to reflect on the nature of that body of knowledge. Specifically, I wonder if the program to which I have lately contributed is as much a health informatics (HI) one, strictly defined, as a health information management (HIM) one. Oddly enough, for such an arcane question, it seems others have asked a similar one. Do an online search for “difference between informatics and HIM” and you’ll see; it will save me posting multiple links here, as they are pretty easy to find.

Bottom line, the HIM discipline tends to focus predominantly on the organization and coding of medical data. It certainly uses the modern technological tools such as EHRs and databases to accomplish its goals, but by necessity its core competencies revolve around making sure the data are collected and classified in a way so as to optimize reimbursement and to demonstrate compliance with the ever-evolving regulatory environment. The “classic” preparation for someone looking to further his or her HIM education/career path, thus, includes heavy emphasis on coding and reimbursement concepts. HIM program faculty should possess commensurate credentials.

Health informatics, by contrast, stretches across multiple professions and stresses the development and mastery of IT-based solutions to improve patient care and clinical processes. Not surprisingly, there are sub-categories here, including medical informatics, nursing informatics, pharmacy informatics, public health informatics, etc. Each provides a niche for clinicians-cum-technologists to practice at “the intersection of computer science, information science and healthcare” (Mohiuddin, 2014).

Examining the distinction between HIM and HI, then, there is absolutely no doubt that my particular talents are squarely in the HI arena. Yes, I have acquired a working knowledge of coding constructs and the like in the course of my daily work, but my passion is to improve patient outcomes and population health using information technology.

As such, I ponder the “truth in advertising” relating to graduate curricula proclaiming themselves health informatics programs, when they are staffed solely by HIM experts. I freely admit my bias, but a health informatics faculty devoid of clinicians lacks a vital area of expertise. Conversely, regardless of how a program is named and marketed, my featured skill set is not exactly simpatico with that needed to facilitate the learning of HIM students.

The healthcare industry today needs more of both HI and HIM professionals. I do ultimately hope to return to the calling of preparing HI professionals on an adjunct basis, while maintaining my “day job.” Who knows, I may even find an opportunity to lead a course in health IT in a more generalist health administration program. I always keep my options open.

References

Mohiuddin, N. (2014, January 29). Health information management vs health informatics: What’s the difference? (Nursing Informatics & Technology web log post). Retrieved from http://community.advanceweb.com/blogs/nurses_18/archive/2014/01/29/health-information-management-vs-health-informatics-what-s-the-difference.aspx

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