Data science is changing the world. Its influence can be seen in modern-day luxuries. Big organizations across the public and private sectors are racing to utilize its transformative potential. In the healthcare industry, health informatics has dramatically improved the quality of patient care and resolved several complex issues.
Healthcare applications are aiding in early disease detection, help doctors identify at-risk patients, lower costs, drive innovation and discovery in pharmaceuticals. Health informatics will have a significant impact on the quality of healthcare in the coming years worldwide. Realizing the potential of health data, Scientia Pakistan magazine exclusively interviewed Dr. Suleman Atique, a health informatics expert based in Pakistan.
Dr. Suleman is working as an Assistant Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Ha’il in Saudi Arabia. Below are excerpts of his conversation with our Chief Editor, Saadeqa Khan.
Saadeqa: Let us know about your life and career? Who inspires you the most for an offbeat career like health informatics?
Dr. Suleman: I am from a small village in Mandi Bahauddin and had my primary schooling there. Later, I relocated to Lahore for college and then to Faisalabad for my undergraduate studies in pharmacy. My first encounter with a computer was at the university library, and it became stronger and stronger over time.
This was when I began to consider pursuing more education in fields other than pharmacy. Following that, I picked ‘Health Informatics’ as my major in my master’s degree at COMSATS University Islamabad (earlier called COMSATS Institute of Information Technology, Islamabad).
I received an international student scholarship from Taipei Medical University in Taiwan for my doctoral studies in Biomedical Informatics. I used to stay up to date on the latest advances in the health industry, which is how I became interested in health informatics. This, I believe, is the most excellent strategy to address disparities in the health sector in a resource-constrained country such as Pakistan.
For the past three years, I have been working as an Assistant Professor of Health Informatics at the University of Ha’il in Saudi Arabia. Before this post, I worked at the University of Lahore’s Institute of Public Health in Pakistan. In addition, I am a visiting lecturer at the Public Health Department, Universitas Negeri Semarang (UNNES) in Indonesia.
Saadeqa: Do you agree that data analytics and informatics are essential for properly managing a healthcare organization?
Dr. Suleman: Yes, data analytics provides an accurate view of an organization’s growth. Informatics provides instruments for data collection and analysis. It is critical to have up-to-date data to comprehend the work process in any organization. It is significant, yet it is the most overlooked aspect of the health industry in our area of the world. We must comprehend the potential of ICTs and how they might alter the health sector at a low cost.
Dr. Suleman: Informatics is the science of how data, information, and advanced knowledge improve human healthcare delivery. Let us know about its scope in Pakistan; which features are missing the most in our healthcare system?
Dr. Suleman: Data is the key, and it is as essential as oxygen. Data leads to information, which leads to knowledge. Unbiased data shows relevant information that reveals the status of any firm. To improve our healthcare system, we must prioritize data collection.
The majority of tasks in our healthcare system are still done manually. The healthcare system has the potential to be radicalized if it is digitized. As a result, we must focus on the digitalization of the health industry. This must begin with basic health facilities and progress to specialized hospitals.
I usually avoid discussing and disseminating such things. Unless things aren’t moving in the right direction, I usually give my team members free rein. I am usually a good listener in a team and prefer a mix of hard and intelligent work.
Saadeqa: Which factors do you consider determine patient care standards? How does a patient’s case history help to recognize the roots of a disease?
Dr. Suleman: Patient case history is essentially an indicator of one’s own health status. Minute changes in the physiological data indicate data from several laboratory tests. A clinical decision support system (CDSS) can process changes in a person’s physiological state and aid in illness diagnosis and progression. As a result of advances in health informatics, several systems are now available.
Sadeqa: Can you tell us about when your analysis/ research led to a significant breakthrough in informatics?
Dr. Suleman: During my doctoral studies, I looked into the epidemiological statistics regarding dengue outbreaks in Pakistan. For nearly a decade, I created GIS maps to show dengue case data. GIS mapping of dengue at the provincial level was a first. It aided in determining which locations needed more significant attention to avert repeat outbreaks. In Pakistan, we also discovered that males are more exposed to dengue than females, in contrast to the rest of the world.
Saadeqa: Share with us an experience when you gathered information from multiple resources. How did you determine which source was relevant? How do you balance cooperation with others and independent thinking?
Dr. Suleman: To me, the source of information is unimportant; what matters is its authenticity. For example, at the beginning of COVID-19, some research claimed that antimalarials could cure COVID-19. Still, I found it difficult to believe based on research, and I usually avoid discussing and disseminating such things. Unless things aren’t moving in the right direction, I usually give my team members free rein. I am usually a good listener in a team and prefer a mix of hard and intelligent work.
Saadeqa: How does informatics help to cope with the challenges like medical errors, retrieving medical records, and ensuring quality and safety in health services?
Dr. Suleman: Medication mistakes were a major driving force behind creating computerized physician order entry systems (CPOE). In the United States alone, medical errors are responsible for an estimated 250,000 deaths per year. In a country like Pakistan, where no such data is available, one can estimate the harm it poses.
To avoid such challenges, digitizing the health sector from its very foundation to its pinnacle is critical. Informatics tools not only detect potential medical errors but also notify users when they are corrected. Manual manipulation of health data poses hazards and may result in unforeseen outcomes. Informatics tools aid in the efficient collecting and retrieval of medical records.
One of the leading causes of medication errors, particularly in chronic patients, is a lack of medication reconciliation. CPOE can effectively address this issue. Furthermore, it can collect all information on a patient in one place, reducing the possibility of overlooking critical aspects of patient profiles when prescribing or providing medications.
Saadeqa: Let us know the impact of health informatics on malpractices in labs and hospitals/healthcare centers?
Dr. Suleman: Medication errors in health care organizations play a significant impact in increasing mortality in both inpatients and outpatients. These inaccuracies are the result of human error. The use of digital systems in the health sector can significantly reduce these risks, perhaps saving many lives.
The use of a computerized physician order entry system (CPOE) can help to reduce these errors and alert practitioners to potential errors. When combined with CPOE, clinical decision support systems (CDSS) aid in making better clinical judgments and reducing medical errors.
As we all know, the majority of healthcare costs in Pakistan are borne by patients. Duplication can reduce lab tests data by applying informatics tools, which will reduce patients’ treatment costs and make it more cost-efficient for them.
When we use health informatics technologies, it is easier to conduct public health surveillance. Over-prescription of medications, particularly antibiotics, is a natural hazard to humanity; it is a global threat that can be controlled by using CPOE and calculating Defined daily doses (DDD) of antibiotics.
Saadeqa: What would you like advice for early career researchers in health informatics? What is next for you?
Dr. Suleman: The next generation of health informaticians must concentrate on healthcare data analytics. This is where Pakistan falls short the most. The two most important fields of informatics are data analysis and visualization. Pakistan is still a newcomer in this industry, yet there is enormous promise.
Furthermore, the government should strengthen the institutes that provide education in this field. There is only one university in the country that offers a master’s degree in health informatics. There is a need to provide this subject in more institutes. The higher education commission of Pakistan must recommend including health informatics as a subject in all the healthcare and allied healthcare programs at the bachelor level.
In the future, I hope to develop a health informatics research group where we can train the next generation of researchers.
Saadeqa Khan is the founder, CEO, & Editor-in-Chief of Scientia Pakistan. She’s a member of the Oxford Climate Journalism Network (Second Cohort) and NASW. Saadeqa is a fellow of NPF Washington, The Falling Walls Foundation, and the Science Journalism Forum. Saadeqa has won several international journalism grants and awards for her reports.