My Winter As a Hospital Intern: How Non-Medical Professionals Will Change Healthcare

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Spending six months at a world-renowned hospital institution has been an incredibly insightful and uplifting experience for me. As part of the Master's in Biomedical Informatics Program, every student must complete a practicum project, in which theory is put into practice. This degree program was recently created to fill the demand for medical and non-medical professionals that are able to utilize technology, like electronic medical records, to improve patient care.

My first day at the hospital largely consisted of going through orientation along with a large group of medical, pharmacy, and nursing students. The staff in charge of the education department ensures that all students are trained and knowledgeable of privacy and confidentiality regulations, such as HIPAA, and understand how to recognize people in medical distress, and report these situations based on a system of codes, with Code Blue being the most recognizable. Code Blue teams are setup to respond to patients in cardiac distress, considered a potentially life-saving intervention. Staff also ensures that students have had the proper background checks done, and vaccinations are verified as well; most hospitals require staff to be vaccinated against influenza every year. Students then report their particular preceptors, and begin a schedule of clinical rotations.

In my particular program, we were tasked to use technology and organizational behavior skills to improve the patient discharge process. My colleagues and I proceeded to interview many different stakeholders, research information reported on peer-reviewed medical journals, and utilize the hospital's electronic medical records system to map out the process and establish baseline performance metrics.

One of the things that stuck out to me the most, was the eagerness of every staff member to help us with our project. I truly felt that each and every person that I met was not only knowledgeable, but genuinely concerned about improving the satisfaction and well-being of their patients. Since the hospital I was in was a teaching institution, staff members to relayed their thoughts and knowledge to us, and were also contributing to the development of our careers. I suppose that because of the nature of the environment healthcare professionals are in, there is a camaraderie such that each staff member supports and sympathizes each other; its a feeling unlike any other, and quite frankly, almost addicting. You look at fellow colleagues, and you know that there is a positive vibe, and everyone is there to do good.

Yes, there is the occasional bickering and drama that one sees in popular TV shows, but certainly at a lower intensity level. An interesting finding for me was that even though everyone agrees that healthcare information technology is necessary to improve quality of care and patient safety, it is also a great point of discordance for different stakeholder groups.

One of the biggest misconceptions with electronic medical records technology is that it is faster. However, the challenge, especially at a larger scale, is that many different stakeholder groups - or disciplines - must all use the same system to interact with each other. Each group has different workflows and different ways of storing information, which brings up the problem of ensuring data consistency across the organization. Because healthcare has been 'siloed' for the longest time, it is obvious that the integration of all these professionals under the umbrella of one EMR, is no easy change to overcome. In addition, managing cultural and generational barriers play a large role in smoothing out the transition. While EMR may not be as simple as paper-based records, modern information technology has arrived to healthcare, and is here to stay.

Even though medical education continues to be cost-prohibitive, and a driver for increased student debt, programs like Biomedical Informatics and Healthcare Administration, allow for people with other backgrounds such as business and finance, to attain the necessary knowledge to work within a clinical environment. Having non-medical professionals involved in healthcare helps balance out the forces, and is also a seed for innovation. After all, the truth is, that healthcare has got to think outside of the box and learn from other industries and professions.

As such, and in conclusion, I encourage great healthcare professionals to continue being great, and for those that are resistant to change, to open up, and embrace it as a vehicle to improve patient satisfaction and engagement.