Four Arkansas physicians gain ‘clinical informatics’ certification

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Clinical informatics is the first new medical specialty created during the last two decades, according to Mercy Fort Smith, and it can now tout one of its own as among the only four in Arkansas to be certified in the field.

According to Stanford University's School of Medicine, clinical informatics "is the scientific discipline that seeks to enhance human health by implementing novel information technology, computer science and knowledge management methodologies to prevent disease, deliver more efficient and safer patient care, increase the effectiveness of translational research, and improve biomedical knowledge access."

And according to a press release from Mercy, Dr. Todd Stewart, a physician at Mercy Clinic, passed the first ever board certification exam in the field, joining just more than 400 physicians nationwide and only three others in Arkansas.

Two physicians at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Dr. Joseph Jensen and Dr. Donnal Walter, are also receiving certification. As of this posting, no other hospital system identified the fourth recipient.

Mercy said moving its records from paper charts to electronic health records was why Stewart's certification was important. Stewart elaborated, explaining that his interest in technology has been part of his drive to use computers to increase patient safety and productivity in the medical field.

"I've been interested in computers in medicine since medical school and residency training in the mid-1990s," he said. "I've enjoyed working with multiple companies to develop new products and technologies designed to make care both safer and more efficient for patients."

Part of the drive for certifying physicians in clinical informatics is not only streamlining medical records, but complying with new laws that are on the books, according to Stanford.

"Important health information about individuals is scattered across many systems that do not, and cannot, communicate with each other," Stanford's medical school said on its website. "New national and international initiatives aim to define and implement a secure, patient-centric, longitudinal electronic health record that will store an individual's past and present health status, care received and plan of care, and that can be appropriately shared to improve health outcomes and enhance patient safety."

UAMS' Jensen said clinical informatics improved "how people in medicine communicate."

"Clinical informatics touches everything in health care. For many years in health care, we have understood the importance of keeping a good record and describing and communicating patient care," he said. "Clinical informatics provides us tools to do this much more efficiently, over remote distances and with data standardized so that we can learn from the experiences of large groups of patients."

UAMS said the American Board of Medical Specialties approved the subspecialty of clinical informatics to establish "a standardized educational certification process for physicians in the field and enabling physicians to transform the health care into a system that taps the power of computer-bases to support all facets of health care delivery."

Mercy said the federal legislation moving medical facilities to invest in improved technologies is known as the HITECH Act, which passed in 2009. The bill provided funding for hospitals to improve technologies as part of the 2009 stimulus package.

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The benefits to electronic records, according to Mercy, are four-fold:
• Having a more complete medical record instead of a disjointed paper record;
• Having a medical record available after hours or in an emergency situation;
• Being able to use medical data to better care for chronic disease; and
• Preventing medical errors such as repeating unnecessary tests or prescribing drugs with known problems or interactions.

As part of Mercy's push to improve electronic health records, the hospital and its associated clinics now make available the MyMercy online portal. Other features available to patients include the ability "to make appointments with their physicians, view test results, request refills and other conveniences."

Stewart will receive his formal certification in clinical informatics in January 2014.

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