New Medical Specialty Aimed at Harnessing Data to Improve Patient Care

Clinical Informatics is First New Board-Certified Specialty in 20 Years

By Juliana Bunim

tablets with patient data on them

A new specialty in Clinical Informatics has been launched at UC San Francisco, addressing the growing need to harness the power of massive quantities of patient information in the era of precision medicine and health care reform.

This new board certification is designed to educate doctors on how to collect, synthesize and present data to deliver patient care more safely and effectively.

The select group of pioneering physicians who will receive the first national board certification in Clinical Informatics includes pediatric hospitalist Seth Bokser, MD, medical director for information technology at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital. Awarded by the American Board of Preventive Medicine, the certification recognizes the increasingly vital role that the science and practice of informatics plays in health care.

Clinical Informatics was recognized as a medical subspecialty in 2011 by the American Board of Medical Specialties, and is the first new board-certified medical specialty in 20 years.

“Health care is an information-management business,” said Bokser. “It has always been, but we have finally reached a new era where we are harnessing the power of IT to take in, organize, retrieve, analyze, reason and report on the data for individual patients and populations."

Deluge of Patient Data

In the last decade, there has been an advancement of electronic health records and the explosive use of mobile health technologies tracking everything from sleep and heart rate to temperature.

Seth Bokser, MD

Seth Bokser, MD

With it comes a flood of patient data that needs to be managed, analyzed and optimized. And in the wake of health care reform, there is a greater emphasis on using patient data to support clinical decisions and justify payment and cost savings.

“As physicians who focus on clinical informatics, we leverage our know-how of medicine, data systems and analytics to partner with our colleagues and patients to be able to make better informed health decisions,” said Bokser. “We also want to design systems that enable innovators and our incredible research community to use more voluminous, and better quality, real-world clinical data than ever before."

Board Certification in Clinical Informatics is awarded based on practical and examination-based mastery of the science of informatics. Clinical informatics specialists have proven proficiency in clinical decision science, application of artificial-intelligence-based decision support, programming fundamentals, data and database structures, IT infrastructure and risk mitigation for health care, standards for data exchange and representation, privacy, and security.

Additionally, the Clinical Informatics specialty curriculum includes well-developed skills in quality improvement methodology, negotiation, organizational leadership, and change management.

Bokser and his 400-plus pioneering colleagues across the United States will receive the official board certificate in January.

From Small Data Medicine to Big Data Health Care

Clinical Informatics is a new specialty focus for UCSF physicians, and comes at the heels of the creation of UCSF’s Center for Digital Health Innovation, led by Michael Blum, MD, the associate vice chancellor for informatics. The focus of the CDHI is developing new technologies, apps and systems that will generate enormous new data sets to accelerate the advancement of precision medicine.

Center for Digital Health Innovation at UCSF

The emerging field of precision medicine aims to harness the vast advances in technology, genetics and biomedical research to better understand the roots of disease so that prevention, diagnosis and treatment can be precisely tailored to individuals.

"UCSF has fully embraced information technology and the revolution in health care that it supports. We are getting more mobile, more social, more connected with our community and our patients, there is no doubt,” said Bokser. “In less than a decade at UCSF, we have transitioned from paper and file-cabinet-based health care. We are not only part of the 21st century, but UCSF is now leading health IT boldly into the next generation – from small data medicine to big data health care."

UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital creates an environment where children and their families find compassionate care at the forefront of scientific discovery, with more than 150 experts in 50 medical specialties serving patients throughout Northern California and beyond. The hospital admits about 5,000 children each year, including 2,000 babies born in the hospital.