I recently read an interesting article in Health IT and CIO Review that discussed commonly misused IT terms in the healthcare profession.  The fact that these terms are misused so frequently is not due solely to misunderstanding or unfamiliarity; it reflects how new the field of healthcare IT is; and how the meaning and interpretation of this terminology continues to evolve and reflect new applications.  So consider this partial list a moving target, subject to continued modification:

  1. Interface vs. Integration. While used interchangeably, they mean different things.  Interface = communication and interaction, whereas Integration=combination. Interface applies to hardware or software that communicates information between users, devices, or programs; it also applies to the interaction that occurs among individuals, groups,  and organizations. Integration refers to the process of bringing related parts of a system together; combining them, so to speak.
  1. Informatics. This refers to information science, and the way data is processed, stored and retrieved. Correct usage depends on understanding what it is you are referencing: are you talking about types of data involved (in healthcare it can include behavioral, medical or financial data); or are you discussing the computational process: (the calculations performed using algorithms specific to the health data)?   Be careful overusing this term as a trendy substitute for “information” or “data” alone.
  1. EHR vs EMR. These are often used interchangeably. The Electronic Medical Record is basically a paper chart in electronic format; unlike an Electronic Health Record, it may not contain long-term health information, or aggregated patient data provided by other providers.  The EHR includes these in order to provide a comprehensive medical and prescription history.
  1. Optimization.  There is temptation to use this term immediately after the rollout of an IT system in workflow, otherwise known as Implementation.  Optimization is the process of bringing the new system up to peak performance after it is operational.   The problem here is that the implementation phase may not have been fully vetted before the emphasis shifts to optimizing or “polishing” the system.   The result is that organizations risk struggling to optimize a system that still has workflow and service delivery problems.  Optimization is a seductive term,  indicating a high level of systemic strength and process reliability, when the reality may be otherwise.   Be careful not to overuse it (wishful thinking ) when the focus should still be on fixing implementation issues.

There are many more terms related to healthcare IT that are often  used inappropriately, and we will continue with this list in Part II.

Originally published in ADVANCE for Administrators of the Laboratory, Lab Quality Advisor Blog on December 21, 2015


About The Author

Irwin is Quality Advisor for COLA Resources, Inc (CRI®). where he provides a wide range of technical assistance to laboratories across the country. He previously held the position of Executive Director at Community Response, a community-based organization that provides HIV/AIDS support services in metropolitan Chicago. Prior to that position he was the Laboratory Manager of Crittenden Memorial Hospital, West Memphis, AR. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Brooklyn College, a Medical Technology degree from Good Samaritan School of Medical Technology, a Master of Science degree from Colorado State University, and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Memphis.