Dec 15 2020

What is a Clinical Informaticist & How Do They Help Healthcare Systems?

Data-driven professionals with clinical and IT experience are well suited to address workflow hurdles.

Clinician burnout in the U.S. is a well-documented issue in healthcare, costing roughly $4.6 billion in lost time and staff turnover each year. COVID-19 is further highlighting this concern as providers are asked to treat more patients. 

But the problem existed before the pandemic: 40 percent of clinician stress can be directly attributed to the use of electronic health records, according to a 2019 University of New Mexico study.

Often, this is due to the increasing amount of time spent navigating, reading and updating the platforms. Some clinicians and health systems simply accept the status quo because they might not realize the level of efficiencies that are possible.

Fortunately, the growing field of healthcare informatics can help by applying user-centered design methods to a range of critical projects. 

Data-driven professionals, such as chief medical informatics officers and chief nursing informatics officers, can lead their teams to optimize EHR, telehealth and patient portal applications, along with other technologies, so providers can easily access the right information to support the best clinical decision making in real time. 

How Medical Informaticists Benefit Providers and Patients

With their focus on understanding end-user needs and improving the process with a higher degree of acceptance, informaticists are well suited to improve the functionality and usability of health IT solutions. They can even redesign workflows to suit specific roles, such as nurses, patients, caregivers or even a billing department. 

When it comes to optimizing an EHR, informaticists can guide the journey. They may choose to reduce the number of clicks needed to access information, to display the most relevant historical information for a clinician to reference during an appointment or to build out preset fields that capture the most critical information based on the nature of the visit (an annual checkup versus a specialist appointment, for example). 

They also can streamline patient discharge processes, make patient portals more user friendly, adjust the number of times a clinician needs to enter login credentials across all IT systems and more. 

Informaticists are uniquely positioned to help because most of them began their careers as trained clinicians. With backgrounds that span nursing to radiology, they have firsthand exposure to the same tools, workflows and related limitations.

This hybrid skill set allows informaticists to target and articulate what’s missing and how best to address those gaps.

Easy Strategies to Bring Informaticists and Clinicians Together

Informaticists may partner with their health system’s IT department to implement specific changes, or they can serve as a liaison with an IT vendor to make customizations on IT’s behalf. These staffers have immense value.

Still, clinicians may be unaware of how they — and their patients — could benefit. Informaticists might consider a few strategies to champion their cause and drive collaboration.

  • Seek out “superusers”: Find clinicians who are well respected within your organization and who have fully embraced health IT solutions. Team up to understand their pain points and potentially model broad system updates after work-arounds they may have created. You can identify potential candidates by using your system’s analytics to identify the strongest users of technology.
  • Get clinician buy-in early: Sometimes, end users aren’t consulted until right before a new IT implementation, which frustrates clinicians and undermines project adoption. Build early trust via focus groups and IT planning sessions at the start of any project. Explain how you’re using your clinical and IT knowledge to advance projects that could positively affect them and their patients.
  • Tackle projects by priority: Meet with all departments across your organization to understand what systems and processes already exist — and to determine what projects will offer the most value and the best use of IT resources. If projects of little value to the end user are prioritized, clinicians will lose trust.
  • Build a bridge: Your role as the translator and convener between IT and clinical teams is highly valuable. The better you are at communicating needs and capabilities between the end user and IT development, the more effective you’ll be at strategizing and creating solutions that have the most impact. 

By implementing these and other strategies, informaticists can cement their role as health systems’ secret weapon in getting clinicians back to focusing on providing the care they trained for, eliminating unnecessary burdens and ultimately improving patients’ healthcare experiences and outcomes.

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