SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Americans have learned several new phrases this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. One such phrase, “flattening the curve,” refers to the international effort to slow the rate of spread of Covid-19. The goal: to have fewer infected people seeking treatment at any given time so the healthcare system can accommodate all patients. The Covid-19 curve itself is a creation of the field of health care informatics.
Health care informatics
Health care informatics plays a central role in aggregating and analyzing information from a wide variety of sources from tests to social media postings, demographic data and treatment responses.
“Informatics and data analytics will help determine when a community can start easing quarantine restrictions, which groups of people are safe to bring back together in groups without risk of infection, and if/when a second wave of infections could happen,” said Jonathan Mack, Ph.D. He is an expert in the field and a professor in both the University of San Diego Healthcare Informatics on campus and online master’s and doctoral degree programs.
Decision-makers turn to statistical models for guidance
The public health orders to slow the Covid-19 infection rate don’t always benefit from the availability of complete information about the spread of illness. In February and early March as the outbreak caught hold in the U.S., only limited testing capabilities existed. This, in turn, limited the information available to medical professionals. As a result, they found themselves lacking a clear picture of the rate of new infections, the total number of infections, and whether there would be a seasonal effect that might improve the situation in the warmer summer months.
But with better statistical models, decision-makers in health care and those leaders they advise at local, state, and federal levels can make better decisions.
More about statistical models
“Statistical models are mathematical representations of data that is known that help predict the cases, mortality, and duration of the outbreak,” said Mack. “These models don’t see into the future. But they can help by defining probabilities of certain events, and are used to influence decisions on public health interventions and resource allocation.
“The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), for instance, has published models anticipating hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators required for treatment of Covid-19 patients, assuming full social distancing through May 2020. The underlying assumptions, as well as the statistical methods, impact the projections and error levels of these models,” explained Mack.
University of San Diego program meets new workforce needs
The University of San Diego program is open to both medical professionals and those without prior health care experience. The program trains students to create unique tools for organizing and managing population-level health data. Graduates secure employment in health care delivery organizations, medical device companies, biopharma, research, and public health organizations. In addition, graduates find employment with EHR companies, health care start-ups, and consulting firms.
“Health care informatics is applied to the development, management, and application of clinical and health information. This includes electronic health records, which are software systems that your doctor or nurse practitioner uses when you have a clinical visit,” said Mack.
“Health care informatics is applied to health care apps run by your smartphone, telehealth systems for providing care, medical devices that carry-out remote home monitoring and any setting where you find data is collected and transmitted for the care of a patient,” Mack added.
A growing field
As with most technology applications, the health care informatics field is experiencing growth as the technology evolves, and as the complexity of the patient and population data expands – requiring artificial intelligence (AI) to manage it.
“The application of AI to care systems will be necessary to manage and interpret the large volumes of data generated through health care technology,” said Mack. “The use of AI has the potential to accelerate solutions to the care and treatment of patients as it is being done with COVID-19 with the development of sophisticated systems that can predict protein functions of the virus in order to develop novel therapies.”
The University of San Diego first developed its health care informatics program over a decade ago after federal health care information system mandates in 2010 created new workforce needs. Opportunities in health informatics now include roles in data management, telehealth, consumer informatics, and remote patient monitoring.
— Headline image: Health Care Informatics plays a central role in aggregating and analyzing information from a wide variety of sources. These range from Covid-19 tests to social media postings, demographic data and treatment responses. Photo credit: Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. CC 0.0 license. (Public domain).