HIMSS News

A Physician’s Journey to Clinical Informatics

How the heck did I wind up in Clinical Informatics? Some days it feels like I just blinked, and suddenly, here I am spending 50 percent of my professional effort in a specialty that was unheard of when I was a resident. In reality, I’ve had a number of wonderful opportunities over many years that have prepared me for this challenge. 

As a young anesthesiologist, I had an opportunity to research the history of the anesthesia record at the Wood Library-Museum of Anesthesiology. As a result I became an informal resource for my department on the directions and purposes of anesthesia record-keeping, then primarily on paper. This in turn led to responsibility for departmental quality improvement (also in part because no one else wanted to do it!) Then, when my hospital converted to an integrated electronic medical record, including an electronic anesthesia record, my informal role became a formal one, as a subject matter expert, physician champion, and ultimately super user of that integrated EMR. Along the way, I gained knowledge and credibility about other components of the EMR well beyond the perioperative space. 

Next, there was the opportunity to take the first board exam in the new specialty of clinical informatics, ultimately passing it and joining that first group of board-certified informaticians. Ultimately this led to further opportunities in my organization, to lead and serve as the entire enterprise converges on a single instance of an integrated EHR.

What have I learned? Simply….never stop learning. Every day, I see at least one new thing, or an old thing in a very new light. As a young medical student, I remember vividly hearing the old quote that a specialist learns more and more about less and less till he or she knows everything about nothing. On the contrary, as I move forward in clinical informatics I find myself having to learn more and more about more disparate fields….change management, cognitive psychology, human-computer interaction, social psychology, computer science, ergonomics, linguistics, anthropology….the list goes on. I am convinced that further progress in this specialty requires that we leverage work that has been done in many fields beyond medicine and healthcare.

It’s been an interesting journey, and it only gets more interesting as I go……

About the Contributor

Dr. Poterack is an anesthesiologist and clinical informatician at Mayo Clinic Arizona and the Medical Director of Applied Clinical Informatics, Center for Translational Informatics and Knowledge Management, Mayo Clinic. Dr. Poterack has served on the HIMSS Physician Committee since 2016.