Future of Informatics

Implementation to Analytics: Future Work of Informatics

William Hersh, MD
Professor and Chair, OHSU
 Blog: Informatics Professor

I am occasionally asked whether the work of informatics will be “done” when everyone is finishing implementing electronic health record (EHR) systems. Sometimes the query is further qualified by, “once everyone gets their HITECH money.”

My answer is always an emphatic “No!” There is no question that some informatics implementation activity may slow down when healthcare organizations are no longer fueled by pursuit of HITECH incentive dollars. These activities may be impacted even further by bottom line woes that are likely to impact healthcare no matter what the outcome of healthcare reform, or other distractions come along, such as ICD-10.

I often further qualify my answer by noting that for many of us, the real interesting work of informatics begins when the EHR platform is in place and we can truly start to do interesting things with the data. These are the so-called “secondary uses” or “reuses” of clinical data [1], things like quality measurement and improvement, improved clinical research, or indeed the “learning health system” first envisioned by the Institute of Medicine [2] and put in the context of the HITECH investment by Friedman et al. [3]. Some call this the “optimization” stage of EHR implementation [4].

One buzzword that is used increasingly in healthcare (and was already in use outside of healthcare over the last few years) is analytics. As with all buzzwords, there is a copious volume of material that has been written. I find a couple books by Tom Davenport and associates [5, 6] to provide good overviews. Davenport is Research Director for a company in Portland called the International Institute for Analytics. A recent primer by The Advisory Board Company, a healthcare consulting firm, gives a good overview of analytics in the context of healthcare [7]. Another recent report comes from PwC, which paints a similar picture of the near future, although (to my content!) describes this as clinical informatics (rather than analytics) [8], The phrase business intelligence is sometimes used to describe this work, and I suspect we will see another phrase, big data, appearing more frequently, especially with the recent Obama Administration initiative in this area [9].

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