Whether you’re a physician, healthcare administrator, or patient, chances are you’ve used some sort of healthcare technology. From electronic health records (EHRs) to patient portals, these technology systems aim to facilitate workflows and foster collaboration among those who design and use them. Ultimately, the applications support efforts to improve patient care, safety, and outcomes -- while also strengthening the bottom line for healthcare systems.
However, without informatics, none of this would be possible. The American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) defines informatics as “the science of how to use data, information, and knowledge to improve human health and the delivery of health care services.”
If you think of healthcare IT as the basic infrastructure keeping health systems humming, clinical informaticists takes a deep dive into patient data, explore delivery workflows, and look at the how and why behind healthcare outcomes.
Keeping this in mind, it should come as no surprise that clinical informatics can inform better quality care and patient safety. Efficiency, effectiveness, and improving patient outcomes are at the core of clinical informatics. Let’s take a look at three ways using informatics may reduce the healthcare burnout burden and lead to better outcomes:
#1: Increased accuracy & usefulness of EHR alerting
With the passing of federal regulations, EHR adoption skyrocketed in the context of capabilities referred to as “meaningful use.” One of the requirements to become a certified EHR was to have a mechanism for clinical decision support. As a result, there is now near-universal adoption of EHR alerting: patient-specific, real-time, visual cues that advise clinicians about everything from drug interactions to which lab orders to place for specific health conditions. Clinicians expect EHR alerts to be timely, accurate, and prescriptive, but an alert is only as good as the data that triggers it. And that’s precisely where clinical informatics comes in.
Among other tasks, clinical informaticists utilize healthcare technology to gather, analyze, and interpret data - uncovering trends and insights around what’s working and where healthcare systems can improve to create better patient outcomes. EHR alerting is just one area that’s making use of informatics today in order to improve the quality and optimize the quantity of alerts clinicians receive.
Analyzing data around alerts may, for example, reveal the unusually high percentage of alert overrides for a specific lab recommendation or a list of the most burdensome alerts. Identifying these patterns and anomalies in EHR alerting through the use of an informatics platform can help Quality Improvement teams improve patient outcomes.
In one such case, a pediatric health system implemented a custom, interruptive alert to encourage N-95 mask usage during the COVID-19 pandemic. By analyzing alert data provided by Phrase Health, the organization was able to fine-tune the alert’s triggers to exclude providers that didn’t need the alert, thereby reducing the alert burden by 50 percent and possibly reducing unnecessary N-95 mask consumption. [callout - “Read the Success Story.”]
#2: Reduced alert fatigue and subsequent burnout burden
Clinicians are suffering burnout related to health IT use, and that’s been exacerbated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a 2021 survey from the Physicians Foundation.
A similar study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA) proposed a multifaceted approach to alleviating burnout that includes streamlining health IT processes and optimizing EHRs.
When it comes to EHR alerting, poorly designed systems, or those that have not been optimized through the use of clinical informatics principles, can over-burden clinicians with duplicate EHR alerts, alerts that provide unhelpful information, or those targeted to the wrong end-user. The downstream effect can lead to a distrust of the accuracy of EHR alerts, resulting in increased alert overrides that may impact quality of care.
Understanding the data behind the alerts, including trends and anomalies, is the best starting point for mitigating alert fatigue. That’s where clinical informatics comes in. By analyzing the types of alerts fired versus overridden, health systems can make informed decisions to reduce alert fatigue, which may ultimately help reduce high healthcare burnout. Such improvements may include:
- Consolidating duplicate or redundant alerts
- Prioritizing alerts based on risk levels
- Ensuring alerts are actionable
- Appreciating the sensitivity and specificity characteristics for alert targeting
#3: Increased quality of care
Ultimately, clinical informatics’ primary goal aligns with the mission of healthcare systems themselves: to improve patient care and outcomes, while also streamlining the clinician’s experience. While healthcare technology systems provide the means for creating, saving, and sharing medical records and other health data, clinical informatics provides the key insights that inform changes in clinician practices and systemwide improvements.
By choosing the right informatics partner, organizations can better track their clinical quality measures (CQMs), optimize their technology to provide the right EHR alerts at the right time, and increase operational efficiency. That ultimately means higher quality care and increased safety, a reduction in errors, and more coordination across providers.