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CRI Lab Quality Advisor

Do You Speak IT? (Part 1)

Published December 21, 2015 10:44 AM by Irwin Rothenberg

I recently read an interesting article1 in Health IT and CIO Review that discussed commonly misused IT terms in the healthcare profession. The fact that these terms are misused so frequently is not solely due to misunderstanding or unfamiliarity; it reflects how new the field of healthcare IT is and how the meaning and interpretation of this terminology continues to evolve and reflect new applications. So, consider this partial list a moving target, subject to continued modification:

1. Interface vs. Integration
While used interchangeably, they mean different things. Interface refers to communication and interaction, whereas Integration refers to combination.

Interface applies to hardware or software that communicates information between users, devices or programs. It also applies to the interaction that occurs among individuals, groups, and organizations. Integration refers to the process of bringing related parts of a system together—combining them, so to speak.

2. Informatics
This refers to information science and the way data is processed, stored and retrieved. Correct usage depends on understanding what it is you are referencing. Are you talking about types of data involved (in healthcare, it can include behavioral, medical or financial data) or are you discussing the computational process (the calculations performed using algorithms specific to the health data)? Be careful to avoid overusing this term as a trendy substitute for “information” or “data” alone.

3. EHR vs. EMR
These are often used interchangeably. The electronic medical record (EMR) is basically a paper chart in electronic format. Unlike an electronic health record (EHR), it may not contain long-term health information or aggregated patient data provided by other providers. The EHR includes these in order to provide a comprehensive medical and prescription history.

4. Optimization
There is a temptation to use this term immediately after the rollout of an IT system in workflow, otherwise known as Implementation. Optimization is the process of bringing the new system up to peak performance after it is operational. The problem here is that the implementation phase may not have been fully vetted before the emphasis shifts to optimizing or “polishing” the system. The result is that organizations risk struggling to optimize a system that still has workflow and service delivery problems.

Optimization is a seductive term, indicating a high level of systemic strength and process reliability, when the reality may be otherwise. Be careful not to overuse it (wishful thinking) when the focus should still be on fixing implementation issues.

There are many more terms related to healthcare IT that are often used inappropriately, and we will continue with this list in Part II.



1. Green, Max. Untangling The Lingo: 10 Most Misused Health IT Terms. Health IT and CIO Review. Sept. 9, 2015.


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