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Vidant Health information experts use data to improve care, engage providers and patients

April 27, 2015 posted by Kathy Neal

GREENVILLE, N.C. – Clinical data experts at Vidant Health are using sophisticated information collection and analysis to determine patterns that could identify which patients are most at risk for sepsis – and perhaps prevent them from getting sicker. 

Sepsis is a rare but life-threatening condition, usually occurring after an initial infection. If not diagnosed and treated quickly, it can cause significant organ damage and death.

For Dr. David Michael, Vidant Health’s chief medical informatics officer (CMIO), the sepsis research illustrates the powerful potential of the emerging field of clinical informatics. “Numbers by themselves are just numbers,” he said. “But when you look at them in comparison to other aggregate data, you can see patterns and trends that turn data into actionable information.”

In 2010, Michael was named Vidant Health’s first CMIO – a title that didn’t exist when he was in medical school. Five years later, Vidant Health has become more involved with data than ever, he noted. Activities include implementing electronic health records systems in hospitals and physician practices and changing clinical practices based on outcomes data from those systems. They also include providing patients with real-time access to their own health data through Vidant MyChart, a secure online patient portal designed to help patients engage with their care and their providers.

Michael is so passionate about his work that he chose last year to join the second group of physicians in the country to pursue national board certification in clinical informatics. “Board certification is an indication that the medical world is taking very seriously the rigorous nature and importance of this specialty.” 

In North Carolina, only a few physicians have achieved that milestone, including Dr. Sashikanth Kodali, medical director of informatics at Vidant Health. Fewer than 800 U.S. physicians are board-certified in the field, according to the American Medical Informatics Association. 

Michael didn’t plan to become a clinical data expert; he just wanted to provide the most effective care to his internal medicine patients in Greenville. But after 13 years, he was, “frustrated that the health care system rewarded quantity over quality, and I knew we could do better,” he said. At the same time, he realized, “You can’t change what you can’t measure,” and so began his career in clinical informatics.

“If we could predict outcomes with more certainty, based on data, we could develop more standardized care protocols to anticipate and prevent bad outcomes,” he said. “We could also engage patients and families in their own care. That means the patients do better and, if hospitalized, go home sooner, which also reduces costs,” he added. 

He credits his team members with propelling Vidant Health’s informatics program to its current success. “We are a relatively new team, but we are very excited about the potential benefits of clinical informatics,” he said. Other team members are Dr. Kodali; Matt Gitzinger, director in the CMIO office; and Dr. Joseph Pye, medical director of health informatics; and Chaitanya Duryea, business analyst. 

As excited as Michael is about the informatics field, he still misses his patients. “I loved my patients, and feel selfish for having left the practice, but the opportunity to improve health care for so many people throughout eastern North Carolina was impossible to turn down.”
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