Faculty Profile: Rebecca Meehan, Ph.D.
We sat down with Dr. Rebecca Meehan of the School of Information (iSchool) to talk about the release of her new book as well as the recent accreditation of the Health Informatics (HI) program and what it all means for students who are looking to start a new career, change careers or move to a different type of job within the broad world of healthcare and information.
CCI: First off, congratulations on publishing your book. What is it about?
Rebecca Meehan: Thank you! This has been a great experience. I wrote this book with John Sharp who is an adjunct professor here in the iSchool. It’s called Making A Difference: Careers in Health Informatics, and it’s part of the HIMSS Book Series (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society). The book was inspired by our students at Kent State, from questions we have been asked over the years, like what jobs are out there? What can you do in this field? What does health informatics mean? What does a typical day look like? Our goal with this book is to shed light on this growing information profession and to help students find their path to be a part of it.
Health informatics roles are needed in so many different areas. While many of these jobs are anchored in a hospital, skilled health informatics professionals are needed elsewhere too. We cover six different domains in the book, in which you could apply your skills: hospitals and healthcare systems, health IT companies, long-term and senior care, government and research, consulting groups and insurance companies.
CCI: What drew you to the health informatics field?
RM: I was a biology undergrad, then later earned a doctorate in medical sociology and gerontology. In between, I worked in research and got really interested in the social influences on healthcare, how where you live and other factors can influence your health. I did research and consulting with an organization called IDEAS (Innovative Designs in Environments for an Aging Society), dedicated to improving quality of life for older adults with dementia. Along the way I got interested in where technology comes in, the evolution of tech and how that applies to healthcare. I moved to working as a senior user experience (UX) researcher and later product manager for Intuit and saw the influence of easy to use, intuitive design on customer satisfaction and company success. Having this tech and UX experience plus my healthcare background led to this phenomenal opportunity at Kent State to marry my industry knowledge with my academic research.
CCI: Tell us about the HI program being awarded accreditation by CAHIIM (Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education). What’s that like?
RM: The timing aligned nicely with our existing continuous quality improvement initiatives in the iSchool. We went through an elaborate and comprehensive deep dive where we looked at every course, involved each instructor, examined the learning objectives and how we prepared students to meet them, what assessments we used and how well those assessments helped students to learn. Accreditation is about helping students to demonstrate the knowledge, skills and abilities gained through the courses across 10 foundational domains outlined by the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA).
This designation reaffirms for students that their degree meets the criteria established by the core competencies of the health informatics profession. It is a great achievement for the Kent State Health Informatics program and the School of Information. While this accreditation was optional, it shows our commitment to creating the best learning experience for our students.
CCI: How would you describe the benefits of our HI program?
RM: Our HI program helps students become leaders in using data and information to improve healthcare. To support this outcome, we provide the opportunity to engage in an internship toward the end of the master's degree. Students get a chance to work with HI professionals at regional health centers and related industries. Hands-on experience helps students understand how to apply the concepts and skills they learned. We also help students network with other HI professionals through professional organizations.
While many of our students work full time in healthcare, you don’t need to be a clinician to be a part of the program. Professionals in health informatics can have either a clinical background (nurses, pharmacists, physicians) or a non-clinical background (data analysts, database professionals, project managers, library & information professionals, business managers). We also try to make it easy to transition into HI from your undergraduate program. In fact, RN-to-BSN students can pursue an HI focus that lets them take three graduate level courses (9 credits) that substitute for courses in their program. We are working with other KSU programs to make an easy path for students to pursue an HI graduate degree.
CCI: And what do you see is the future of health informatics?
RM: Health informatics continues to grow, fueled by the proliferation of digital health technologies, including electronic health records, mobile health apps, wearable health devices and artificial intelligence. We need to make these tools easier to use so it increases patient safety, decreases clinician burden and maintains patient privacy.
We're in an era where we have mountains of data and we're trying to make better decisions using that data. Predictive analytics will continue to grow in importance. To support this, HI professionals need to be able to analyze data and help to inform better care. We need to understand how data is generated, cleaned, stored and utilized so we can make sense of it to improve someone’s health, guide decision making for healthy outcomes, create efficiencies in health systems and to inform new information technologies.
Healthcare needs HI professionals to be the “translator” between technology specialists (people making the tools) and clinicians and health practitioners who are experts in patient care. They need to be a professional who is comfortable talking with both of those groups and ultimately helps to communicate the best experience for the patient. We need professionals who help teams to use ethical guidelines for digital tools, who are comfortable with data, technology and healthcare and who can complete a project with a team or independently. We need informaticians who can communicate with the many stakeholders invested in healthcare.
That human voice, that translational piece is going to be pivotal for the future of health informatics. My sincere hope is that students and job changers look into this HI field for all the great opportunities ahead. We need their expertise to help make a difference!