It’s no secret that the United States is struggling to figure out how to deliver effective, affordable healthcare. The U.S. spends $3.2 trillion on health services, 18 percent of its GDP, but it still ranks 31st in health outcomes among developed nations.
“Health informatics is positioned to be a solution,” said Dr. Dale Green, associate professor of health policy and management and Health Informatics Institute associate director at UGA’s College of Public Health. Green worked for years as a board-certified physician in the Athens area, eventually specializing in clinical informatics.
Green participated in a panel discussion of the needs and uses of informatics at a half-day workshop, “Advancing Informatics in Government and Industry,” hosted by the University of Georgia on December 1. The event aimed to promote discussion of how academia, industry and government can work together to address critical challenges in cybersecurity, data analytics and data science.
The healthcare industry has adapted to major changes in health data reporting, mostly incentivized by federal organizations like the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. But this limited form of clinical informatics is just the tip of the iceberg in health informatics.
“The problem with informatics as a discipline is that it has a different definition depending on who you ask, but generally I want to bring the human element to the technology,” said Green.
In healthcare, most data sources are points of transaction. The insurance codes associated with medical billing are a common example. When information is attached only to payment types and amounts, the context of that information can get lost, says Green.
The reasons why a person comes to interact with the healthcare system, often related to lifestyle, are questions informatics can help answer. Data from smartphones and health devices like FitBits can shape our understanding of the behaviors that lead to positive or negative health outcomes.
Green cautions, however, that constant data sharing carries the risk of privacy loss. Issues related to security and privacy have become barriers to adopting informatics technologies across industries.
“Changes in healthcare in particular are slow,” said Green. “They are people-driven.”
Healthcare providers need to be trained on how to best use this data, he adds. A lot of data is only as good as how it is applied. Predictive modeling and risk stratification are two areas where data is already improving care. Health services utilization is another.
“As a provider, how can I help a patient use X or Y service,” said Green. “That’s where we go next.”