STP Specialisms | Health Informatics

What is Health Informatics?

Health Informatics falls within the remit of clinical bioinformatics. This specialism, however, can sometimes seem difficult to differentiate from physical science and bioinformatics.  The reality is there is a lot of overlap between these programs.  Where Physical Science focuses on the effective acquisition of healthcare data, and Bioinformatics focuses on the use of genomic data to inform on the best treatment options, Health Informatics considers how to capture, communicate and use data to support health care professionals.

Health informatics may have a small cohort within the STP, but within the NHS it is on the rise, and gaining more and more recognition, especially as the amount of healthcare data increases. More and more hospitals now have a specific health informatics department to support their workforce. Health Informatics is changing the way data, already being generated as standard practice, is used. 

What kind of work do Health Informaticians do?

As health informaticians, we are experts on patient information and the latest technologies for managing this information.  Within a healthcare team, all members from project managers, administrators and clinicians rely on fast, accurate information to deliver the best care.  Using IT creatively to achieve this, is where a health informatician can fit in.  Within our role, we provide technical support and deliver cutting edge ICT projects and solutions.  Health informaticians are responsible for the non-stop successful progression of information.

Here are some potential health informatics careers:

Clinical Informatics Specialists use information to improve patient care. This role could involve developing and using electronic means to support patient information and treatments.  This requires a strong familiarity in IT and would require carrying out audits and research to determine methods of best practice within a clinical field.  This type of role could also look into how information and electronic records are shared across primary and secondary care.

Training Managers, involved in education are responsible to make sure that staff are able to use the latest tools and technology and realise the benefits to the patient.  These roles require the assessment of learning needs and the design and development of training materials and resources to support these needs.  Training teams may operate across a large organisation or area and require good knowledge of clinical systems, as well as how these systems are used in practice.

Health Records and Patient Administration.  Access to health records is crucial for the delivery of patient care.  Health records and patient administration staff collate, store and retrieve records used in diagnosis and treatment and promote the effective use of this data. This is a critical role due to the vast number of healthcare professionals involved in patient care who need access to this vital information at short notice.

Information management and clinical coding.  Staff within information management gather, analyse, interpret and present information about health and healthcare to improve services and patient care. This information supports health services in all sorts of ways, from finding out how a trust is performing to planning how many staff are needed to deliver care in an organisation.  More specific roles could include clinical coders; who translate patient diagnoses and treatment into alphanumeric codes and liaise with doctors, nurses and other staff to ensure this information is recorded accurately.

Project and Programme Management. The NHS is investing heavily in digitisation and health informatics projects are at the forefront of continuously improving patient care. Examples of projects include delivering digital systems for staff to record, analyse, extract and use data for the benefit of patients; development of a healthcare app and making improvements in the way information is shared across healthcare organisations. Roles involve identifying service requirements, working with systems developers and implementing final products. Ensuring projects are delivered within quality, time and cost constraints is a key part of the role

** Health Informaticians are data influencers **

How does the STP prepare you?

The training programme curriculum attempts to outline everything that we should know when we finish and become registered clinical scientists. However, within this evolving field of Health Informatics, trainees should maintain a proactive attitude in broadening their skills within the healthcare setting – both in terms to progressing through competencies, but also applying these skills to support their departments and host trusts.

Irrespective of a trainee’s background – be it bioinformatics, physical sciences or IT, the STP curriculum allows trainees to develop skills within the Health Informatics remit and exposes us to the wide range of projects we may take on as professional clinical scientists within this developing specialism.

Rotational Modules (Year 1):

Introduction to Clinical Bioinformatics & Genomics

This module develops a trainee’s understanding of essential bioinformatic tools and clinical databases that aid in genetic analysis. This module involves an introduction to variant analysis and how a clinical scientist decides if a variant found in a patient is pathogenic and cause the patient’s disorder or is it benign- a polymorphism which does not negatively affect the patient.

Introduction to Health Informatics

As part of this rotation, trainees undertake a clinical audit; gather data needed, analyse it and create a report to be presented at their department or Trust. This rotation focuses on the awareness of how information is treated and used in a clinical environment, how it is shared and what guidelines and legislation govern it. This rotation exposes trainees to clinical information systems and clinical decision support systems that ensure the smooth transfer of data and information within a hospital.

Computing for clinical scientists

The computing rotation focuses on how data is managed and used effectively.  This rotation introduces trainees about how bespoke software can be developed within healthcare and uses to various databases languages and design.  Trainees will learn about SQL, UML, PHP and website architecture.

Information and Communications Technology in the Clinical Environment (ICT)

This rotation introduces trainees to the world of Medical Physics and Clinical Engineering. This rotation can vary between hospitals, however, it focuses on database systems and the project management life cycle, allowing trainees to realise the acquisition or development of an ICT system from start to finish. 

Specialist Modules (Year 2 & 3):

Co-production of health

This module focuses on how patients, carers and the general public use health information.  Health information is considered in the context of health, care, wellbeing and how information is significant along a patient’s journey – from accessing one’s personal health record, to the use of information in patient engagement strategies and resources.  This module encourages trainees to consider the role of the internet, apps and technologies in healthcare.

Information and Knowledge Management

Within this module, trainees are exposed to clinical coding, and how datasets are created and used within the NHS.  This module pushes trainees to be critical of information systems, considering how data is used and how it impacts on funding and research to improve clinical care. 

Policy, Strategy and Operational Management

This module focuses on the bigger picture, and gives trainees the opportunity to shadow senior managers. This module puts healthcare in the wider context, reviewing organisation and regional informatics strategies, and how these relate to national policies.  Here we focus on the operational management of informatics services within healthcare, and the importance of stakeholders. Stakeholder engagement is emphasised, encouraging us to meet with patients and patient groups.

Systems Development and Design

This module gives trainees the opportunity to work on live and current projects, critically appraising the system and needs. Trainees have the opportunity to evaluate project life cycle methodologies and make suggestions in order to deliver target benefits, fulfil user expectations and requirements while maximising patient safety and providing cost-effective solutions.

Anything else?

Similar to the other clinical informatics specialisms, Health Informatics is less patient-facing, but I have had the opportunity to work with many clinicians and health care professionals across a wide array of departments, as well as sit in on board meetings with hospital CIO’s and project managers.  Given how small our cohort may seem, this is not reflective of the future for Health Informatics.  As healthcare data continues to grow at an exponential rate, so will the need for professionals who are able to manage and work with both this data and other professionals across a wide range of specialisms.

If you have any questions I’m always happy to talk about what I do, and how I have gotten involved with different projects.  Drop me an email – gwen.cowley@nhs.net or find me on twitter @gwenuine

You can also find more information about Health Informatics via the NHS Health Careers Page

 

Author: Dr. Gwen Cowley

Trainee in Health Informatics at The Royal Liverpool & Broadgreen University Hospital Trust. PhD in Functional & Comparative Genomics. Interested in improving multidisciplinary support for data science and informatics within healthcare.

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