Understanding Health Care Informatics: An Interview With Sam Hanna

To say that there’s a great deal of fraud and waste in healthcare is an understatement. Yet in this chaos, there’s tremendous opportunity by way of better information. (Here is my 2013 CNBC segment on the matter.)

But better information can do more than just make healthcare more efficient.Informatics can unlock valuable insights into medical conditions and diseases that we can only begin to comprehend. Toss in wearable tech and the possibilities explode. To this end, I recently sat down with Sam Hanna, Health Informatics program director at George Washington University.

PS: For those of us who don’t know, what are healthcare informatics?
SH: Healthcare informatics is a multidisciplinary study that uses healthcare information technology to improve outcomes, reduce cost, improve quality, and ultimately drive innovation into the healthcare industry. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Informatics is the how and why, behind health IT. Healthcare informatics is going to be essential to everything that we do in the healthcare field. You really cannot do health care without data and information nowadays.

PS: Can you provide an example of how informatics can improve healthcare outcomes?
SH: There are numerous examples of how this new field is impacting healthcare across the board. In terms of healthcare outcomes, the use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) can improve diagnostics and can help in risk management through the aggregation, analysis and communication of patient information. EHRs and the data collected through them (made into information) allow for better decision making by providers and improve operational and clinical process that translate into efficiency and patient safety as well.

PS: Is this a mature industry? Why or why not? What needs to shake out?
SH: While Health Information Technology (Health IT or HIT) has been around for some time, I believe we are beginning to realize the benefits of the enormous amount of data we have, and continue to generate. Many providers, payers, researchers and various other healthcare related entities are grappling with the how to utilize this data. I believe the Informatics field is ripe for innovation, and those that will do well, are the organizations and individuals that will be able to convert the siloed data into actionable information for decision makers to utilize.

PS: What about the elephants in the room: privacy and security?
SH: I believe one of the key risks to the health informatics field is the lack of privacy and security management. Such breaches and incidents that you can read about frequently damage the perception and reduce the user acceptance. There is certainly a gap in policy and practice that needs to be narrowed. Many organizations are bolstering their defenses against cyber attacks and strengthening their incident prevention and response policies. I would also urge organization to do more in terms of contingency planning and disaster recovery. As information becomes a healthcare necessity, we must all do more to safeguard and control while at the same time manage collaboration and interoperability.

PS: Put on your soothsayer hat. What does this field look like in five years?
SH: I am excited and bullish on the field of Informatics. I believe that we will continue to see improved use of data, efficiencies and many breakthroughs in research, personalized medicine and patient safety and outcomes due to the holistic approach this field enables through information