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Health Informatics (HI) is a relatively new, interdisciplinary field in the healthcare industry that uses information technology to organize and analyze health records to improve healthcare outcomes. It is also called Health Information Systems.
A rapidly growing field across the healthcare sector, health informatics deals with the resources, devices, and methods required to acquire, store, retrieve, and use health and medical data. Healthcare informatics work provides electronic access to medical records for patients, doctors, nurses, hospital administrators, insurance companies, and health information technicians.
In 2009, the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act was created to promote and expand the adoption of health information technology— focusing mainly on the use of electronic health records (EHRs) by healthcare providers. The financial incentives available to providers due to HITECH created a job market for HI professionals, which is still growing today, 11 years later. Before the introduction of the HITECH Act, only 10 percent of hospitals had adopted EHRs. In order to advance healthcare, improve efficiency and care coordination, and make it easier for health information to be shared between different covered entities, electronic health records needed to be adopted. Given the widespread and critical nature of this work, the demand for qualified HI professionals is high.
Currently, the numerous applications of EHR systems do not communicate effectively with one another. Interoperability is the ability of different information systems, devices, and applications (“systems”) to access, exchange, integrate, and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner both within and across organizational, regional, and national boundaries. Interoperability supports the provision of timely and seamless information delivery and optimizes individuals’ and populations’ health globally. Health data exchange architectures, application interfaces, and standards enable data to be accessed and shared appropriately and securely across the complete spectrum of care, within all applicable settings, and with relevant stakeholders, including by the individual.
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed an Interoperability and Patient Access Rule which introduces new policies that will expand access to health information and improve the seamless exchange of healthcare data. This rule will enable better care coordination, better patient outcomes, and reduced costs. The proposed policies will help break down existing barriers to interoperability and empower patients by giving them access to their health information. This proposed rule’s guidelines address and impact all aspects of healthcare, from patients to providers to payers and researchers. The technology and standards will spark new opportunities for the industry and researchers while improving healthcare quality for all Americans.
The Northeastern MS in Health Informatics program addresses interoperability in two ways. First, many courses that cover the management of health information also address interoperability at some level. Secondly, Northeastern’s curriculum includes a course that specifically addresses how to build and maintain interoperable systems. The faculty instructor for Key Standards in Health Informatics is a member of HL7, the group that is responsible for international interoperability standards. As is the case with faculty across Northeastern, this faculty member’s industry experience provides real-world knowledge that supports students in their networking and job searches.
Younger generations were raised in an online world—from streaming their favorite TV shows to submitting college applications to grocery shopping. But today, many of them still can’t go online to make an appointment with their primary care physician (PCP) for a physical or a sick visit or see the average wait time for the ER. When today’s consumer-centric options, such as a local pharmacy or urgent care center, do allow for this level of visibility and ease, people who grew up digitally will question the value of maintaining a relationship with a PCP who does not provide this level of visibility.
With this in mind, Northeastern’s health informatics curriculum addresses how providers and others can use existing and developing technologies to support open, proactive, two-way communication between hospitals, clinicians, patients, vendors, and other healthcare stakeholders.
Northeastern’s Health Informatics graduate program is taking the lead in this work through an emerging partnership with the Society for Participatory Medicine (SPM). Together, Northeastern and SPM leadership are developing a course on participatory healthcare and its enabling technologies. Based on this course, MSHI students will understand the role of each of the essential stakeholders—patient, healthcare provider, payer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, medical device company, pharmacy, and others in the healthcare environment. This course will also address students’ professional obligations and what technology gaps must be overcome for participatory medicine to reach its full potential.
The digitization of healthcare systems in clinical settings combined with the explosion of personal data collection devices provides the opportunity of using data for revolutionizing approaches to care at all levels with an emphasis on precision medicine and person-centered care. The ability to take advantage of this Big Data opportunity requires expertise at the intersection of health informatics, data science, and computational modeling. To address this, Northeastern has added a course on Introduction to Health Data Analytics. In addition, other courses, including Patient Engagement Informatics and Analytics and Claims Data Analysis, have been added or proposed to enhance how Northeastern students address this issue.
Many people use 10,000 steps as a benchmark for a daily goal, but this number actually originated as part of a marketing campaign rather than coming from scientific evidence, explains Amy Bantham, DrPH, CEO and founder of Move to Live More, a health and fitness consulting company. Bantham has conducted research on physician exercise referrals and patient exercise behavior change.
There isn’t yet conclusive scientific evidence showing that this number is the ideal target for better health than a lower daily step count, Bantham says.
One study published earlier this year in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine did show that walking more steps each day was incrementally linked to more benefit when it came to reduction in cancer and heart disease incidence, as well as mortality up to 10,000 daily steps, at which point the benefit leveled off.
Anthony Wall, personal trainer and director of international business development for the American Council on Exercise (ACE), says what is clearer from the research is that more steps are generally linked to more benefit. According to another study, published in JAMA in 2020, people who took 8,000 steps a day had a 50 percent lower risk of dying than those who took only 4,000, for instance. And people who took 12,000 steps had a 65 percent lower risk of dying than those who only took 4,000.
People who walk tend to experience fewer colds because mild exercise stimulates your immune system, says Michael Fredericson, MD, sports medicine physiatrist, doctor, and surgeon at Stanford Medicine. According to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, people who reported exercising five days a week or more (the study specifically looked at aerobic exercise, but not necessarily just walking) are 43 percent less likely to be sick with an upper respiratory tract infection (like a common cold) than those who didn’t exercise during the week. The study showed that even partaking in moderate exercise for 20 minutes at least one day a week, you are less likely to get sick. (The researchers looked at whether study participants got sick over a 12-week period to reach these conclusions.)
When walking, or exercising, you are increasing your heart rate and blood flow, which increases circulation of immune cells in the body, Fredericson says.
The increase in blood flow is also what gets your digestive tract rolling. One small study, for instance, found that walking and drinking water after a meal kept things moving through the digestive tract (referred to by the researchers on the study as “gastric emptying”) better than consuming a digestif, like brandy, aquavit, espresso, or water alone.
Most exercise is associated with mental health benefits, but in most cases no single exercise, like walking, can by itself cure a clinical disorder.
How does walking affect mood? Most people operate in a sympathetic or more stressful state, Fredericson says, and exercising can bring a person into a parasympathetic or more relaxed state.
And the increased blood flow in the brain produces more endorphins. “It can help us reset, recharge and refocus, whether we are children trying to concentrate in the classroom or adults trying to overcome writer’s block,” she says.
Walking is a low impact exercise that offers benefits such as promoting endorphin release, increasing blood flow to the body and the brain, and improving bone health, without exerting the extra strain on your joints, Bantham says.
For the general public, walking is easier on the body than running, Fredericson says, and there is less chance of injury. Plus this low impact activity is something that everyone can do. Running is more of a skill, and some people have bodies that better accommodate this type of activity, he says. Hip and knee alignment, body weight, and the shape of your foot’s arch can either predispose you for issues or lead to your success when running, he says.
A lot of people ask should they run or walk, Wall adds, and it comes down to one simple thing: What is your goal? If you are looking to get fit and improve things like oxygen capacity and CO2 output, then running is a better tool, he says. If you are looking for things like blood pressure reduction, feeling better, or better sleep, walking is better for this.
Moderate to intense walking can reduce the risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes when expending the same amount of energy as running, research has found.
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