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What is a Health Information System?

by Chris Brook on Monday July 15, 2019

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Learn what a health information system is, benefits, best practices, and more in Data Protection 101, our series on the fundamentals of information security.

A health information system (HIS) refers to a system designed to manage healthcare data. This includes systems that collect, store, manage and transmit a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), a hospital’s operational management or a system supporting healthcare policy decisions.

Health information systems also include those systems that handle data related to the activities of providers and health organizations. As an integrated effort, these may be leveraged to improve patient outcomes, inform research, and influence policy-making and decision-making. Because health information systems commonly access, process, or maintain large volumes of sensitive data, security is a primary concern.

Health information technology (HIT) involves the development of health information systems.

Examples of Health Information Systems

Health information systems can be used by everyone in healthcare from patients to clinicians to public health officials. They collect data and compile it in a way that can be used to make healthcare decisions.

Examples of health information systems include:

Electronic Medical Record (EMR) and Electronic Health Record (EHR)

These two terms are almost used interchangeably. The electronic medical record replaces the paper version of a patient’s medical history. The electronic health record includes more health data, test results, and treatments. It also is designed to share data with other electronic health records so other healthcare providers can access a patient’s healthcare data.

Practice Management Software

Practice management software helps healthcare providers manage daily operations such as scheduling and billing. Healthcare providers, from small practices to hospitals, use practice management systems to automate many of the administrative tasks.

Master Patient Index (MPI)

A master patient index connects separate patient records across databases. The index has a record for each patient that is registered at a healthcare organization and indexes all other records for that patient. MPIs are used to reduce duplicate patient records and inaccurate patient information that can lead to claim denials.

Patient Portals

Patient portals allow patients to access their personal health data such as appointment information, medications and lab results over an internet connection. Some patient portals allow active communication with their physicians, prescription refill requests, and the ability to schedule appointments.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

Also known as telehealth, remote patient monitoring allows medical sensors to send patient data to healthcare professionals. It frequently monitors blood glucose levels and blood pressure for patients with chronic conditions. The data is used to detect medical events that require intervention and can possibly become part of a larger population health study.

Clinical Decision Support (CDS)

Clinical decision support systems analyze data from various clinical and administrative systems to help healthcare providers make clinical decisions. The data can help prepare diagnoses or predict medical events — such as drug interactions. These tools filter data and information to help clinicians care for individual patients.

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Benefits of Health Information Systems

Health information systems tend to target efficiency and data management. The main drivers of health information systems are:

  • Data analytics: The healthcare industry constantly produces data. Health information systems help gather, compile and analyze health data to help manage population health and reduce healthcare costs. Then the healthcare data analysis can improve patient care.
  • Collaborative care: Patients often need to treatments from different healthcare providers. Health information systems — such as health information exchanges (HIEs) — allow healthcare facilities to access common health records.
  • Cost control: Using digital networks to exchange healthcare data creates efficiencies and cost savings. When regional markets use health information exchanges to share data, healthcare providers see reduced costs. On a smaller scale, hospitals aim for the same efficiencies with electronic health records.
  • Population health management: Health information systems can aggregate patient data, analyze it and identify trends in populations. The technology also works in reverse. Clinical decision support systems can use big data to help diagnose individual patients and treat them.

Best Practices for Health Information Systems

Security is the primary health information system concern. All networks are vulnerable, but healthcare providers are desirable targets for cybercriminals. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulates the protection of individual healthcare information. To help keep systems secure companies should:

  • Train employees
  • Encrypt data
  • Back up data
  • Monitor usage
  • Buy insurance
  • Access vendor vulnerability
  • Utilize multifactor autentication

Besides security, it’s useful to focus on patients. Use health information systems to increase convenience and access for patients. Consumers are used to retail systems and have high expectations for customer service.

Remember the clinical staff is probably the best resource for health information system decisions. Top-down decision making doesn’t often lead to seamless technology integration. Involve clinicians in deciding how health information systems can be used and which technologies will be best.

Where to Find Out More About Health Information Systems

Visit the following resources for more insights on health information systems:

Tags: Data Protection 101, Healthcare

Chris Brook

Chris Brook is the editor of Data Insider. He is a technology journalist with a decade of experience writing about information security, hackers, and privacy. Chris has attended many infosec conferences and has interviewed hackers and security researchers. Prior to joining Digital Guardian he helped launch Threatpost, an independent news site which is a leading source of information about IT and business security for hundreds of thousands of professionals worldwide.