The use of iPads is common at Strong Memorial Hospital, where doctors use the tablets to update charts and access patient health records. Behind the scenes are medical informatics professionals working to bridge the gap between information technology and health care, helping the technology run seamlessly.
As U.S. health care reform seeks to improve the quality, efficiency and safety of medical care while controlling costs, medical informatics professionals are becoming a necessity. To meet this growing need, RIT and University of Rochester joined forces in 2011 to create a master’s degree in medical informatics. The program trains graduates to assist in the widespread application of information technology to health care and the adoption of electronic health records.
“Our country’s decision to switch from paper medical records to electronic health records by 2014 has created an enormous demand for qualified graduates in medical informatics that will continue to increase in the decades to come,” said Nicolas Thireos, a retired RIT professor from the medical informatics program and one of the program developers.
A medical informatics professional is seen as a jack-of-all-trades—someone who understands coding and human computer interaction as well as medical terminology and clinical processes and guidelines. About two-thirds of students in the joint program come from healthcare backgrounds and are looking to expand their skills; one-third of students come from an IT background, with a strong interest in helping others.
Teraisa Chloros, a 2013 graduate of the master’s program, had considered a career as a physician but finds that informatics allows her to help more people at once, rather than one patient at a time.
“Medical informatics is often misunderstood by people who think that technology can be made to simply replace existing practices,” said Chloros, a Webster, N.Y., native who is enrolled in the health services research and policy Ph.D. program at University of Rochester. “As a medical informatics professional, you work with physicians and patients to learn how they use technology so you can build an effective application with purpose.”
With the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for electronic health records, a major task in medical informatics will be creating electronic health systems that can contain and secure complete, up-to-date patient information. While many in medical informatics work with major healthcare information technology companies, others work at healthcare organizations to modify systems to fit their way of doing business.
“Information is the lifeblood of an organization,” said Steve Zilora, an associate professor and chair of RIT’s Department of Information Sciences and Technologies. “Medical informaticians keep the organization healthy and nourished by enabling delivery of data in a form that is compatible with the needs.”