Attention Mr Minister2 | Health Informatics | Informatics

Attention Mr. Minister The Health System Needs Health Informaticians!

By Lenos Koku Ankrah of Regent University College of Science and Technology Health informatics or medical informatics is the intersection of information science, computer science, and health care. It deals with the resources, devices, and methods required for optimizing the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information in health and biomedicine. Health informatics tools include not only computers but also public health and clinical guidelines, formal medical terminologies, and information and communication systems. It involves the knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support delivery of healthcare and to promote health. One of the great health care challenges of the 21st century is managing the overload of data and information related to health care. Health Informatics accelerates the adoption, management and use of health information technology in order to improve quality of health care information to improve health care delivery, increase patient safety, reduce health care costs and improve public health. Who uses Health Informatics, and why? Health care practitioners, administrators, and even consumers who require regular and timely health information to be effective in their practices are potential users of health informatics. For example, • practitioners use health informatics to get information on latest discoveries and techniques for treatment and cure of diseases, consult a database to learn more about potential drug interactions, to make online contacts with other professionals of their kind and to analyze digitized brain and other organs imagery; • health administrators benefit from use of health informatics that design and facilitate the use of computerized medical records systems, decision support systems, security, confidentiality and privacy systems; • the public interacts with health care informatics to have online access to their medical records, seek a new health care practitioner to consult, or to search online information for a diet to combat metabolic syndrome; and • researchers and faculty use informatics to have easy access to data, to provide distance learning for professional development in health care fields, for the prediction of infectious disease outbreaks, and to practice performing medical procedures virtually in three dimensional environments and on human simulation models. The Health System of Ghana needs an electronic health record system. An electronic health record system should be the keystone of the Ghana Ministry of Health’s overarching initiative to increase the use of health information technologies in the health care sector. Guided by informatics policies and principles, the Ministry of Health and other health agencies must rely on information systems to facilitate good decision making. Health Ministry officials need to be provided with right and timely information and also need to provide the right people with the right information at the right time. Health Information Systems bridge public health, clinical care, individuals, and communities to foster improved performance in the overall health system. Health Informaticians ensure that the collection, analysis, and dissemination of information, drive quality and efficiency in

public health across geographical levels, and ultimately lead to improved individual and population health. Providing useful information is at the heart of the Health Informatician’s work. Data transformed by analysis into information, and information transformed by application into knowledge, is essential to making informed decisions and taking action to improve the health of communities. National and Regional health agencies need regular supply of data, information, and knowledge to guide them in various aspects of their work. Reliable and timely access to a patient’s health information does improve the quality and efficiency of the health care delivered to the patient; however, there must be concerns about the rights of privacy and security of the patient’s records. Poor handling of patients’ privacy and security policies and practices can lead to erosion of patients' confidence in the health information system. The Health Informatician is adequately trained to handle policies concerning security and privacy of patients’ records. Annual health reports on Ghana continue to cite the woeful state of health care delivery in Ghana. Health information systems remain inadequate, making it impossible to monitor and improve the delivery of interventions in a timely and effective way. For better or worse, citizens of Ghana are increasingly linked in sickness and in health. The poor and vulnerable populations in the country have particular challenges with notable chronic and acute disease burdens which poses serious financial burdens on them and where money is not found quickly to send patients to hospitals they are faced with the danger of incapacitation or loss of lives. Health Informaticians are trained to explore methods to assess the health information needs of hospitals to support them to achieve their important missions of providing high quality access to health care at the lowest cost possible. There is no doubt that the driving force of any successful organization is its information base. Information is not just picked, information needs of any organization must be determined and assessed regularly through scientific and calculative means and it seems to me that by virtue of his training the Health Informatician is better positioned to do information needs assessment of hospitals than any other category of professionals can. Hope is on the horizon, Health Informaticians are being trained at the School of Public Health, College of Health Sciences at the University of Ghana. The Health Informaticians who are trained at the School of Public Health are not only trained as Health Information Managers they are also trained as Biostatisticians i.e. they are capable of using statistical methods to analyze Health Information. Not just that, they are also trained in Epidemiology, Simulation, and GIS. Knowledge in Epidemiology enables them to study how diseases are distributed in populations and the factors that influence or determine this distribution and how to apply the results of these studies to control diseases. With knowledge in Simulation they are capable of imitating dynamic health systems using computer models to evaluate and improve health systems’ performance. A lot of financial savings can be realized from simulation by identifying and eliminating problems and inefficiencies in the health system. With knowledge in Geographical Information Systems and Mapping they are capable of using GIS software to describe disease occurrences by location and time. They are capable of using GIS software to develop thematic maps showing health related events in specified geographical locations and populations. The College of Health Sciences, School of Public Health carefully designed the courses to address the many hydra headed problems in our health system.

The first batch of the trained Health Informaticians graduated from the School of Public Health in January and the second batch graduated in April this year. The expertise for electronic connectivity in health or eHealth expert or health informatician is therefore here in Ghana. They must be sought after by the health authorities and placed in the health system accordingly. It might seem obvious that the health care system and all health care practitioners will automatically be potential beneficiaries of the health care informatics being developed in Ghana. It is not true that the system will naturally allow the Health Informaticians in because it needs them. There are lots of interests within the system that will feel threatened by the presence of these professionals for obvious reasons. Is it not true that a politician medical practitioner collected 350,000 Ghana cedis to do a consultancy work for the NHIS program but did nothing and only “chopped” the money? He could not do the work because he was not trained to do it. That was the work of a health informatician. Note that he would not have succeeded in collecting away that money so easily if health informaticians were in the system. Clear policies must be made by political leaders in the health industry to provide places for these professionals within the health system and they must be given the appropriate remunerations, incentives, working tools, and favorable working conditions to enable them deliver. It is note worthy that it takes about $12,000 to produce one health informatics professional in 2 years at the School of Public Health and the nation must not sit down for these professionals to be lost to other countries who will be very willing to entice them when they get to know about their availability in the country. It is disheartening to see these highly skilled people either jobless or struggling to have jobs in fields in which their expertise is clearly underutilized. For the sake of survival they are forced to look for jobs that are “strange” to their profession because they are not taken at the places where they would be most useful. Meeting high standards of health care delivery and quality health care service and more so dealing with peculiar problems of our health system are compelling reasons why it is important to integrate the expertise of not just any Health Informatician but Health Informaticians trained at the College of Health Sciences, School of Public Health, University of Ghana, Legon into the Health System in Ghana.

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