This spring, BCPSLS Central Office had the pleasure of hosting two Health Information Management (HIM) students from Douglas College for their five-week senior practicum. It was a win-win experience: the students gained the opportunity to apply their skills outside the classroom and the Central Office team benefited from the students’ fresh eyes and approaches.
But let’s back up a bit. What is HIM, anyway?
According to Patricia Visosky, Douglas College HIM program coordinator and instructor, it’s all about turning healthcare information into meaningful data so that various types of users can have access to it and use it to inform their work. It’s also about keeping data stored confidentially and enabling access to the right users at the right time.
“HIM professionals are the stewards and guardians of health information data,” says Pat. “In the past, HIM was typically thought to be synonymous with Health Records. Now, HIM is being recognized as a separate entity.”
HIM is managed within each Health Authority, except in the Lower Mainland, where it is a shared service led by Providence Health Care. HIM teams help manage the collection, storage, and use of patient information. Typically, services include registration and scheduling, records management, transcription, coding, and informatics.
To prepare students for careers in this field, the CHIMA-accredited program at Douglas College includes courses in health data collection and classification, human biology and anatomy, reporting, system analysis and design, medical terminology, and statistics.
Caitlin Campbell and Nichole Peters, who completed their practicum at Central Office, believe that having skilled people to collect and manipulate health data is becoming more and more important.
“We find a lot of healthcare professionals aren’t really clear about what HIM is,” says Nichole. “Our role is to interpret what clinical providers are communicating. Because we focus solely on the data, we notice details and specifics that others may not see.”
Douglas College students join BCPSLS Central Office in showing support for Humboldt, Saskatchewan (clockwise from top left: Nichole Peters, Annemarie Taylor, David Gasson, Caitlin Campbell, Catherine Reid)
Many HIM professionals begin their careers coding information in patient charts; for example, assigning International Classification of Disease (ICD) alpha-numeric codes to most responsible and secondary diagnoses. This data is then submitted to the Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI), where it may be used to measure performance, make policy decisions, or inform researchers. Data may also go to other local organizations such as the BC Centre for Disease Control, or international databases such as WHO’s Global Health Observatory.
“It’s important to recognize that the information provided by clinicians in the patient chart or elsewhere is vital to the system as a whole,” says Pat. “So much is driven and funded by the data CIHI tracks and trends.”
So, why is HIM the best kept secret in healthcare?
“There are so many more opportunities for graduates with the expertise we teach them,” explains Pat. “Many HIM professionals are interested in using the data to investigate different aspects of health outcomes.”
With an intimate knowledge of coding, informatics, and analytics, HIM professionals are well-positioned to flex their muscles in areas of decision support, finance, IMITS, and quality improvement.
The connection between HIM and patient safety is also an important one. Decision support analysts use health information data to provide indicators that help clinical teams assess safety and risk. Coding staff ensure patient information is secure and protected. HIM professionals help maintain hybrid systems of paper and digital data as organizations transition to fully electronic health records.
The Douglas College student practicum is a hidden gem as well.
Students completing their two-year diploma participate in a five-week practicum that provides them the advantage of sinking their teeth into a project while being supervised by a local preceptor.
At Central Office, Caitlin and Nichole were able to tackle several projects that required dedicated time, a keen set of eyes, and expertise in classification. They assisted with testing our new streamlined report forms, made recommendations to improve our medication formulary, explored taxonomy revisions for hazard events, and reviewed our nomenclature for equipment type.
Not bad for five weeks’ work.
“BCPSLS is a very collaborative office with people from different backgrounds and a big emphasis on teamwork,” says Caitlin. “This was different from other environments where HIM work is done in isolation and we don’t always learn what happens to the data after we code it. It was nice to see what others report and get the bigger picture of what’s done with the data.”
Congratulations to Nichole and Caitlin for completing their diploma program! We are grateful for their time and expertise and know that their contributions here at Central Office will help support our ongoing commitment to continuous system improvement.
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