Clinical Informatics: Help Wanted

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Mary Stevens, editor, CMIO

The exponential growth of clinical data and a continuing dearth of trained informaticists are trends to keep an eye on. Beyond that, “it’s all about EHR adoption these days and doing that in a way that creates improvements in an organization,” Joyce Sensmeier, RN-BC, HIMSS vice president of informatics, said in an interview. The HIMSS11 roster of clinical informatics sessions, exhibits and demonstrations offers powerful proof.

Sensmeier expects clinical information’s exponential growth to continue. “The challenge has been getting the systems installed and leveraging that [growth]. … Now we’re moving toward clinical decision support and being able to take action on  the information, she says. “If you have all of that in place, can you now realize the outcomes that are expected?

“Are we there yet? We’re just coming into this. With the incentives and Stage 2 [of meaningful use] focusing more on quality outcomes and use of the data, that’s the wave that is currently under way. We’re seeing that as HIMSS gets prepared to open, these are the themes in the [HIMSS11] educational sessions.”

Clinical informaticists will have plenty to see at HIMSS11, according to Sensmeier, including the new Physicians Executive Forum and the Sunday Physician IT Symposium, which focus on education for physician informaticists, “providing more of the tools they need as many of them, as CMIOs, are leading these efforts,” she says. Sessions look at success and scars through the eyes of organizations that have been leaders. For example, speakers from Sentara Healthcare, a Davies Award winner, will talk about the tools they’ve used to achieve the results they’ve been able to accomplish already. “The good and bad of it are going to be really important for the physician IT execs to hear, to help them not to make the same mistakes,” she said.

Other sessions will highlight innovative uses of IT, because part of the challenge is sorting through “what is cutting-edge, what is bleeding-edge, [and] what will work in a healthcare environment,” said Sensmeier. “One interesting aspect is the idea of a dashboard—for clinicians to have, at their fingertips, the ability to display different data presentations to get more information.”

HIMSS11’s content will likely help attendees learn to do more with less, but the informaticist shortage is an ongoing challenge, she said: “There are not enough trained physicians and nurses that are able to help lead these projects and execute. A recent report showed 47 percent of healthcare organizations are reporting challenges with recruitment of clinical informatics physicians. That’s of great concern.

“When I entered the specialty of nursing informatics, my training was on the job. That’s a couple of decades ago. And we’re still going to have to resort to that because there aren’t enough trained individuals to do this work.”

In last year’s HIMSS leadership survey, CIOs said the ability to hire enough clinical experts was a concern, and was seen as a barrier to health IT adoption, she said.

Teamwork will be required to meet this challenge, and physicians and nurses should work as partners moving forward. It will take leadership from multiple perspectives to really drive the revolutionary changes that are going to occur in health, said Sensmeier, who urges her to colleagues to encourage that type of partnership moving forward.

There are 43 clinical informatics-oriented educational sessions on tap at HIMSS11, making clinical informatics one of the hottest topics at the show. However, if you’re not making the trip to Orlando—or just want to be sure not to miss anything at the meeting—check out’s daily coverage from the show floor for the top informatics news and more.

Mary Stevens
Editor of CMIO