Technology is often hailed as a cure-all in medicine. Advocates of this view aren’t wrong, per se: evidence shows that interoperable electronic health records (EHRs) increase patient safety, empower patients with virtual tools, and improve quality reporting that helps reduce healthcare expenditures.
Yet a purely technological approach is not effective if it ignores input from physicians. Providers’ experience and expertise are irreplaceable. However, software development can overlook this crucial aspect, which results in providers frustrated with their EHR. Difficult EHRs are correlated with higher rates of physician burnout.
Improved usability and physician-centered design are at the core of clinical informatics.
What Is Clinical Informatics?
Clinical informatics is the practice of applying information- and technology-based approaches to facilitate efficiency in healthcare delivery. It is often referred to as applied or operational clinical informatics. Clinical informatics touches almost everything providers use: EHRs, clinical decision support systems, medical imaging, patient portals, radio frequency identification (RFID), and much more.
My particular area of focus is facilitating documentation and optimizing providers’ EHR usage. While a pediatrician, I worked with several EHRs, all of which had their pros and cons. In almost every case, the EHRs were viewed as a necessary evil. But I think they hold the power to truly improve patient care if we can bring them up to speed with other sectors. Just think about where Google and Amazon were 20 years ago and where they are today. That’s the transformation I want to see with EHRs.
Why Does the Clinical Voice Matter?
Clinical informatics brings the clinical voice to the table to enhance providers’ day-to-day practice, improve their technology experience and combat physician burnout.
- Optimize the physician’s workflow. Provider feedback is vital to improving EHRs and adding new features. Reducing the number of clicks reduces the chance of errors in reporting. Improving clinical workflows can include adding self-service kiosks that allow patients to sign themselves in, expediting the check-out process, and integrating technology platforms.
- Improve patient health. Continuously improving healthcare delivery and technology empowers patients to take control of their own health with access to a patient portal and educational resources. For providers, improved technology can provide access to the most up-to-date clinical protocols so you can provide your patients with the best care, decrease the number of unnecessary tests or immunizations, and afford them greater control over their patient’s prescriptions.
How Can We Amplify the Clinical Voice?
Now that we’ve demonstrated the necessity of the clinical voice, what are some ways we can further implement it?
- Surveys and polls. Surveys and polls help clinical informaticians assess the severity of physician burnout with a particular EHR or other healthcare delivery system. Clinical informaticians use this information to develop new features or improve the technology to reduce physician pain points.
- Physician-led organizations. Partnering with physician-led organizations can help elevate the clinician voice in the healthcare landscape. This way, you will have access to like-minded physicians who can negotiate better deals on your behalf.
- Working groups to discuss EHR usage. In a survey of 1,792 Rhode Island physicians, 23 percent reported they were suffering from burnout due to their healthcare delivery technology. Providers can take feedback from physicians who did not report symptoms of burnout and use those tips in their own practice.
While technology improvements cannot be accomplished overnight, the clinical voice in clinical informatics is an important instrument, not only to raise awareness of critical areas in need of improvement in health information technology but to drive the ongoing development of technology that fits clinical workflow and clinicians’’ needs. As healthcare technology grows and advances, it’s important that we preserve the human element that is fundamental to medicine.