Friday, February 16, 2007

Cuba congress - Bill Hersh presentation

It is Friday already, the final day of the VI International Congress on Health Informatics. The day's opening keynote presentation came from Bill Hersh, from Oregon Health Sciences University, and titled 'Training the health and biomedical informatics workforce: competencies and approaches'.

Bill began by quoting Nelson Mandela – 'education is the most powerful weapon [that] you can use to change the world'

He said that many of the issues in developing professional practice in health informatics are common to all countries. He sees the future as being bright for information technology in healthcare, as there is increasing recognition of the value of EHR (although he acknowledges that USA is by no means a world leader in the area), and of need for patient information to be available to all who need it. He noted increasing effort in the USA into translational research, ie moving research from the laboratory to the clinical areas, and he sees a large role for informatics in this.

He notes many challenges to using the EHR – issues of cost, integration with the clinical workflow in healthcare, interoperability and standards. There is also a necessity for well trained people to lead the implementation of systems, and this has received less attention than needed. He cited his recent work, (in JAMIA, March/April 2006) built on that of Covvey and others on categories of professionals in biomedical informatics practice. Medical informatics is more than just technology, and there is a need to understand how to use the technology in healthcare, and how healthcare organisations can make best use of the technology. He sees a need for an emerging breed of professionals who understand healthcare and technology, and also the organisational issues to lead implementation and change, as well as a need for academics in the field. Citing recent work on whether medical informatics is a profession, he suggested that it is not (yet) a profession.

The are approx. 25 programmes offering informatics degrees in USA, but due to the highly multi-disciplinary nature of the field, there is no standard curriculum or accreditation. OHSU has a broad curriculum, with tracks in health informatics and bioinformatics, but Bill sees the likelihood of more convergence between the two fields over time. He also sees a need to develop courses dealing with public health informatics.

Bill described some of the teaching modalities used within their distance learning delivery, including 'voice over powerpoint' presentations, threaded discussion forums, and virtual projects. He emphasised that interaction is an important component of the asynchronous distance education. In concluding, Bill sees one of the most important success factors for health IT as the skills and competencies of those working in the area.

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