понедельник, 17 сентября 2012 г.

Teaching how IT can support patient care: Dalhousie University's Informatics program - CMAJ: Canadian Medical Association Journal

Unique program is collaboration between medicine and computer science.

HALIFAX -- Dalhousie University is taking the lead in a cutting-edge field with the launch of Canada's first graduate program in health informatics. The two-year master's program, initiated in September 2002, is a unique collaboration between the faculties of medicine and computer science, with contributions from the faculty of management.

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Dr. David Zitner, a family doctor, is director of medical informatics in the Faculty of Medicine and chair of the Health Informatics Executive Committee. Dr. Michael Shepherd, a professor of computer science, is director of health informatics in the Faculty of Computer Science and graduate coordinator for the program.

The program is designed to develop a group of experts who understand how information and information technology (IT) can be used to support patient care, health services administration, research and education for patients and providers. The collaborators (and students) believe the program will help students and communities develop a better understanding of health care and health services delivery. The graduates will help us to improve the ways we care for people, do research, develop health policy and introduce information systems for clinical care.

The program is vitally important to clinical medicine because today few practices have access to practical information storage (including electronic health records) and retrieval tools to support effective and efficient health care delivery. Clinicians, IT professionals and administrators often think they are speaking a different language when it comes to IT implementation, and our graduates will be effective translators.

There are 31 students enrolled in the program (22 in the first year of the two-year program and nine from the original year). Students include physicians, nurses, computer scientists, engineers, health educators, pharmacists and dentists. What has been particularly exciting is that the students collaborate very well with each other, regardless of their originating profession. We believe our students will be a terrific resource who will enable experts in medicine, other health disciplines and information technology to communicate better.

An interdisciplinary PhD program is also available at Dalhousie for students who wish to pursue doctoral-level research in health informatics.

The Master of Health Informatics was developed in response to a widely expressed and urgent need for professionals and scholars who understand health and health services systems, and who also understand information technology. Dalhousie's program is a natural progression from five years of collaborative health informatics research that saw more than 20 computer science graduate students complete research theses focused on health problems while supervised jointly by members of the departments of computer science and medicine.

The program combines expertise from the fields of information technology, health information management, and health care -- three fields that have traditionally gone their own way. The interdisciplinary program draws on resources from across the university, including faculty and courses from the faculties of medicine, computer science, management, and science. Students learn to develop better information systems with practical health care applications.

The program is a natural outgrowth of the medical school's and the university's social responsibility to health care. It makes sense that we should be developing the tools and technologies to evaluate drug therapies, support research, improve clinical care, and better manage health resources.

Our graduates could find careers advising clinicians about the benefits and risks of various information tools, developing government health and information policy, working in the private sector for insurance and pharmaceutical companies, in hospital administration or in software development.

Over the last two years we've learned there is a very strong demand for people with these skills. Clinicians, clinical departments and patient groups have approached faculty and students for help in developing and implementing enabling information technology. Participants have helped researchers to improve their database designs and to capture information about waiting times and outcomes.

For example, HealthInfoRx (www.healthinforx.com), a project led by former emergency department physician Dr. John Ginn, is designed to provide decision support for patients. This enabling technology supports patient self-sufficiency by providing answers to a set of frequently asked questions, and providing email access to patients with similar profiles. We believe tools like this will become increasingly useful as Canadian physicians seek new ways of providing excellent and efficient care.

We feel strongly that people from our program will recognize that health is the focus and technology is the enabler. Our students and faculty will be agents for change as health care embraces the information tools and technology that have been so valuable for other industries.

Faculty and senior administration at Dalhousie have also begun discussions to develop programs which meet the need for a shorter, intensive program designed for practicing clinicians, administrators and IT professionals.

The graduates will help us to improve the ways we care for people, do research, develop health policy and introduce information systems for clinical care.