New PIGlet? Or, interested in medical informatics? How to start…

Piglet: ie a New PIG (physician informatics group member)

Are you a PIGlet? Someone interested in the field of medical informatics? One of our newest informaticists coined the term PIGlet (Physician Informatics Group member). Cute. Increasingly I’m meeting with medical students, medical residents and now physicians as well as allied health persons (nurses, physical therapists) interested in the field, and unsure how to get started. Well…

Fallacy: informatics is about designing computer screens and talking with vendors about features and screen design.

Fallacy: informatics is about going into a dark room, creating a fantastic tool and launching it into the public and collecting all the acclaim from co-workers who instantly understand why you are requiring more clicks and typing to complete your amazing new software package.

Fallacy: informatics is about being smarter than everyone else and just KNOWING that your solution you cooked up in your head is going to work for everyone IF ONLY THEY DID THINGS THE RIGHT WAY, like you.

Instead: informatics is about creating a vision of what healthcare COULD BE, empowered with knowledge. This is a team sport. It is about collaboration: collecting everyone’s best ideas, developing consensus, trying a bunch of things in small batches, seeing what works, and then making a big bet, measuring outcomes, and diving back in for the next cycle of improvement. Done well, Informatics is Design Thinking and Teamwork, and the “information technology” is just how it is implemented. This is completely the opposite of what many think informatics is.

They’re … wrong.

Here are some ideas for getting started. A fair number of these are associated with a TED talk or other online video summaries.

  1. Read about informatics (but ONLY after reading about leadership and organizational change)
    1. Lorenzi, Riley, Managing Technological Change
    2. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association
    3. The Design of Everyday Things (Norman), others
    4. Nudge (Thaler)
    5. The Glass Cage (Carr)
  2. Books to read (leadership, culture change, a book club if you’re lucky)
    1. Leading Change (Kotter)
    2. Good to Great (Collins), and others
    3. Death by Meeting (Lencioni)
    4. Delivering Happiness (Hsieh)
    5. Tribal Leadership (Logan)
  3. Books on self improvement
    1. Getting Things Done (Allen)
    2. Deep Work (Newport)
    3. The ONE Thing (Keller)
    4. Atomic Habits (Clear)
    5. The Practicing Mind (Sterner)

There are blogs:

Above all, be curious, be useful, pace yourself, take care of yourself so that when opportunities arise, you can occasionally sprint into action. Create learning habits to stay abreast of changes that affect your clinical practice and that of your colleagues. Read broadly about other industries unrelated to your own, and how problems are solved elsewhere.

CMIO’s take? Informatics has become a crucial part of medical training. The most commonly used (and often hated) tool for physicians today is the EHR; more common than the Yankauer, the retractor, the scalpel, the stethoscope, even. Why not develop exceptional skills with this tool? Until it matures into a self-aware entity (! a later post), it is on US to shape it into a useful tool.

Author: CT Lin

CMIO, UCHealth (Colorado); Professor, University of Colorado School of Medicine

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