Health informatics course provides technological skills

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 May, 2009, 12:00am

Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals who have health informatics qualifications are being sought after in Hong Kong.

With the development of electronic patient records, career opportunities for health informatics professionals look promising.

To cope with this need, the Polytechnic University has introduced a master of science in health informatics course, the first of its kind in Hong Kong, to equip professionals in the health care sector with technological skills.

Thomas Choi Kup-sze, leader of the programme, said: 'The Hospital Authority and medical groups are demanding professionals in health informatics. As a result, there is definitely a need to introduce such a course.'

The dilemma now in the medical field, however, is that medical professionals hardly know anything about information technology (IT).

At the same time, IT staff lack understanding about health care. The purpose of the course is to bridge the gap between the IT field and the medical profession.

'Throughout the course, students learn about the role of information technology in medical organisations. They will be taught to develop an appropriate information system to smooth the operation of hospitals,' Dr Choi said.

He explained that doctors no longer needed to record the information of their patients on a card. With electronic records, this data can be recorded and transmitted efficiently between hospitals and doctors.

'The job of our graduate programme is to train people who can develop effective information systems for patients' records to be stored and shared easily,' he said.

Dr Choi added that electronic patient recording marked a breakthrough in increasing the accuracy and efficiency of health care services around the world.

'When a patient consults a private doctor, and is referred to a public or private hospital, their medical record can be shared between all parties. This greatly increases the efficiency for doctors and nurses. Precious time to question or collect information from patients is saved,' he said.

At a master's level, Dr Choi said that students would learn to see health informatics from a planning and management angle. 'Medical data is highly confidential information.

'Apart from sharing and transmitting, the security and management of data is also extremely important.

'Students are trained to design an appropriate system for the health organisation with these things in mind.'

Students from health related disciplines, IT, engineering or applied science are welcome to apply.

In fact, 70 per cent of enrolments are health care professionals, such as radiographers, pharmacists and nurses.

The other 30 per cent come from programming, system analysis, civil engineering and finance backgrounds. There are also IT staff who are already working at hospitals.

There are 30 openings for each intake every year in January and September.

Students can choose to complete the course in one year on a full-time basis or in three years part-time.

The programme consists mainly of classroom training on weekday nights and occasionally on Saturday mornings. Lo Chi-man, a student who works in the IT department of a telecommunication company, took the course to upgrade his knowledge.

'One of my company's businesses is to help hospitals develop a system to share medical information, such as computed tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging and X-ray images.

'My job is to help hospitals to build a network to store and share such data. I came from a computer science background and did not have much understanding of health care services, so I got onto this course to learn about the co-relation between the two,' he said.

'A career involving health care is meaningful because it saves life. I am not directly involved in treating patients, but I can help doctors and nurses to do their job by delivering diagnostic reports to them. I find it very rewarding.

'To cope with work, I take the course on a part-time basis. I take only one subject every semester. It is very flexible and I don't find it very demanding.'