OHSU plays a key role in developing data and information leaders for health care

Dr. HershNew medical specialty established: Six faculty among first in nation to be certified as clinical informaticians

The School of Medicine has six faculty members who are now certified in the brand new medical subspecialty of clinical informatics. The intersection of health care reform and information technology advances are driving the establishment of this new clinical subspeciality.

“The new subspecialty is a recognition of the importance that data and information play in health care,” said William Hersh, M.D., professor and chair of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology. “As we move to new models of care delivery where we measure and improve upon quality as well as keep costs under control, informatics will play a key role in acquiring and analyzing the data. Informatics will be important in other ways, too, from patient engagement in his or her own care and health to clinical and translational research.”

All six OHSU faculty members who sat for the clinical informatics subspecialty board exam passed it. The exam was administered by the American Board of Preventive Medicine (ABPM) in October.

The new clinical informaticians are:

  • Eilis Boudreau, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurology
  • Michael Chiang, M.D., M.A., professor of ophthalmology
  • William Hersh, M.D., professor and chair of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology
  • Michael Lieberman, M.D., M.S., professor of medicine
  • Vishnu Mohan, MBBS, MBI, assistant professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology
  • Thomas Yackel, M.D., MPH, M.S., associate professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology

In addition, at least 38 of the 444 people who passed the exam received some of their informatics education at OHSU.

According to the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), clinical informatics is “the subspecialty of all medical specialties that transforms health care by analyzing, designing, implementing, and evaluating information and communication systems to improve patient care, enhance access to care, advance individual and population health outcomes, and strengthen the clinician-patient relationship.”

Clinical informaticians are more important now than ever as health care reform shifts the national focus to population health and evidence-based medicine. When Dr. Yackel was a medical student on a clinical rotation, he recalls, his resident asked him what informatics was because most people at the time had no idea. When he explained it to her, she said, “Why would you need a doctor to do that?”

“We’ve come a long way since then,” Dr. Yackel said. “Most physicians who have worked with electronic records now know the crucial role clinicians can play in helping optimize electronic health records (EHRs) and in working to ensure the data in the record are available to improve quality and outcomes.”

Now begins the work of building the subspecialty, which is unique in that physicians of any primary specialty are eligible. “We are doing our part at OHSU by continuing to develop our fellowship program, which we hope will be accredited by the ACGME when its rules are finalized next year,” said Dr. Hersh.

Dr. Yackel says he came to OHSU because of its reputation for excellence in informatics training and he’s pleased to see the department continue that tradition in graduate education. He notes that he’s already heard from OHSU residents who are interested in the training.

“We will need them in the workforce, guiding our informatics decisions, working with clinicians to improve data integrity and improve the function and usefulness of our systems,” Dr. Yackel said. “In the end, clinical informatics is all about facilitating outcomes-based care.”

Dr. Hersh reports that his department has also been approached by other medical centers seeking to use learning materials and activities from OHSU’s distance-learning program to augment their own planned fellowship programs.

And in a nod to the growing importance of clinical informatics in undergraduate medical education, the School of Medicine’s new M.D. curriculum will include themes of clinical informatics.

In order to prepare graduates to be competent and effective clinicians in an evolving digital world, they need to learn competencies related to the EHR, informatics and data analysis, says George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education.

“Starting with their very first week of medical school, students will learn to effectively and efficiently use electronic systems and the information they house to optimally take care of patients and populations,” said Dr. Mejicano. “At the start of each week, medical students will use cases embedded in the EHR to explore different aspects of clinical care as they grow their skills in retrieving, reflecting on and processing information. The end result will be physicians who can harness the full potential of informatics and big data to serve Oregon and the nation’s health care needs.”

Even though the subspecialty is limited to physicians, explains Dr. Hersh, the field of informatics is not limited to M.D.’s, who only make up about 30 percent of the enrollment in OHSU’s larger informatics educational program.

The professional association for the field, the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), has a planning process in place to develop an interprofessional certification program for other health care professionals who work in informatics as well as those who come to the field from other backgrounds, such as computer science.

OHSU’s Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology continues to show its leadership in informatics with the recent announcement that it has established an industry partnership with Epic Systems Corporation to advance research and education in biomedical and health informatics using the EpicCare EHR and associated tools.

OHSU is the first academic informatics program to partner with Epic in this manner, an initiative that OHSU and Epic hope will accelerate practical application of electronic health record technology and hands-on learning.

  • Read the full announcement.
  • Read more about the Informatics Discovery Lab in the fall issue of the DMICE newsletter.
  • Learn about OHSU’s innovative work with the EHR and information systems in the fall issue of Bridges (page 10), the School of Medicine’s alumni magazine.


Pictured top: William Hersh, M.D., professor and chair of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology