February 4, 2019

What is a Health Information System?

Dave Levin, MD

Chief Medical Officer

In the simplest terms, a health information system (HIS) is a system that captures, stores, transmits, or otherwise manages health data or activities. These systems are used to collect, process, use, and report health information. In turn, information from a health information system can be used to drive policy- and decision-making, research, and ultimately health outcomes. Here’s what you need to know about the key components of a HIS, the various types, and benefits of HIS.

Key Components of a Health Information System

Health information systems consist of six key components, including:

  1. Resources the legislative, regulatory, and planning frameworks required for system functionality. This includes personnel, financing, logistics support, information and communications technology (ICT), and mechanisms for coordinating both within and between the six components.
  2. Indicators – a complete set of indicators and relevant targets, including inputs, outputs, and outcomes, determinants of health, and health status indicators.
  3. Data sources – including both population-based and institution-based data sources.
  4. Data management – collection and storage, QA, processing and flow, and compilation and analysis.
  5. Information products – data which has been analyzed and presented as actionable information.
  6. Dissemination and use – the process of making data available to decision-makers and facilitating the use of that information.

Types of Health Information Systems

Health Information Systems is a broad category that encompasses several specific. 

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Here’s a look at some of the most common HIS types.

Strategic or Operational Systems

Strategic or operational systems are typically used for information classification. Provisions are made for information systems based on the type of information they’re handling. A pyramid classification system allows organizations to assess the spread of digitization. Because operational systems are generally developed before executive information systems or management information systems, this is easily achieved. The ability to evaluate dependencies can help to identify system deficiencies, as well. For example, a properly configured information system should pull data from a clinical system rather than require nurses and clinicians to collect and document data manually.

Clinical and Administrative Systems for Managing Patient Information on an Administrative Level

Clinical systems are dependent on administrative data. The foundation of an integrated HIS is a master index developed around the most basic patient information with links to different clinical systems, and the clinical system contains the electronic patient record (EPR), diagnostic data, outcomes, and processing.

Electronic Health Record and Patient Health Record

Open EHR aims to enable semantic interoperability for health information systems between various EHR systems in a non-proprietary format to prevent vendor lock-in. Knowledge concepts are stored outside the EHR as archetypes, which support the recording of clinical information. Archetype building blocks include instructions, evaluations, observations, and actions, and information built using these building blocks is stored in the EHR.

Subject- and Task-Based Systems

Subject-based systems are related to patients or healthcare professionals in any type of healthcare organization. Task-based systems, on the other hand, are associated with particular tasks such as admission or discharge. Subject-based systems are often preferred, as they reduce data duplication. In a task-based system, the same subject could be related to various tasks, with basic information such as the patient’s ID being duplicated across each task. In a subject-based system, this basic information is entered only once and flows with the subject through various tasks. For example, an EHR is a subject-based system.

Financial and Clinical Health Information Systems

These systems provide easy access to patient financial information, such as costs and payors, and they also aid in monitoring patient usage of different departments or services. Financial systems typically include invoicing capabilities as well as tools for following up on non-payments.

Decision Support Systems

Decision support systems convert data to clinically relevant information and present it in actionable form to clinicians, aiding in adherence to regulatory guidelines and best practices. These systems can give results for several data manipulations to mimic cognitive processing. For example, a decision support system may provide a list of medications for a particular condition appropriate for the patient’s demographics, such as the patient’s age and weight, as well as any comorbidities. Decision support systems can also facilitate next steps in the workflow, such as submitting a prescription to the pharmacy and scheduling a follow-up appointment for the patient.

Examples of Health Information Systems

Examples of Health Information Systems There are many specific health information systems, most of which can be classified as one of the types discussed above. Specific examples include:

  • Master Patient Index (MPI)
  • Medical billing software
  • Patient portals
  • Health Information Exchange (HIE)
  • Activity Based Costing (ABC)
  • Patient Reported Outcomes (PRO)
  • Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)
  • Scheduling software
  • e-Prescribing software
  • Laboratory information systems
  • Hospital Patient Administration Systems (PAS)
  • Human Resource Management Information Systems (HRMIS)

As you can see, health information systems run the gamut from high-level administrative systems to those that manage detailed, patient-specific information.

Benefits of Health Information Systems

The healthcare industry relies on a massive amount of data to make decisions about patient care, facilitate the delivery of care, and handle the many complex administrative tasks that go on behind the scenes. Health information systems are valuable tools that aid clinicians and administrative personnel in ensuring a seamless patient experience from end-to-end. Other benefits include:

  • Data analytics – HIS help to gather and analyze data to manage population health and reduce healthcare costs.
  • Supports collaborative care – HIS facilitates the sharing of PHI between providers and organizations, making it possible for patients to receive coordinated care from multiple providers while improving care delivery and patient outcomes.
  • Cost control – By sharing information, HIS can eliminate duplicate testing and procedures, reduce time demands on staff (such as for sending paper copies of patient records), and reduce costly human errors.
  • Population health management – Aggregating patient data can help to identify patterns and trends, predict or prevent outbreaks, identify at-risk populations, and more.
  • Clinical decision support – Integrating a patient’s individual data and medical history with broader population data and research improves both diagnostics and treatment.

Challenges of Health Information Systems

Health information systems must be both user-friendly – otherwise, staff simply won’t use them – and cost-effective to run. They should also be able to use and interpret health data. However, achieving these goals has been challenging in the past, leading the industry to aim for interoperability – which is crucial for maximizing the benefits of HIS.

Interoperability improves both the quality and use of health information, but traditional integration techniques are costly and time-consuming to implement. That’s why more healthcare organizations are turning to API solutions like Emissary®. APIs make interoperability more practical, cost-effective, and user-friendly, allowing for the seamless integration of a variety of disparate systems to eliminate silos and streamline the flow and management of data between systems. Learn more about Sansoro Health’s integration solutions and how our solutions can remove the painful, lengthy barriers of application integration to start getting more value from your HIS.

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