Informatics is a Field of Constant Learning

For the past eight years, I have been a clinical analyst in the Informatics Department of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn. This department supports the electronic health records (EHR) for the hospital. We build new orders and plans for our clinicians to use, because we are 100 percent CPOE (Clinical Provider Order Entry).

There are two parts of my job I really enjoy: learning about new treatments for childhood catastrophic illness and getting more training — I'm always learning something new and improving my skills!

My Introduction to Nutrition Informatics

I became an informatics analyst because I had taken additional training in computer technology, which qualified me for a job as a webmaster and database manager for a managed care company. When the parent hospital system ramped up its staffing to implement a new EHR system with Cerner, because of my bedside RD experience and computer skills, I was hired as a clinical informatics analyst. Most members of our team have had prior clinical experience such as nursing, med tech, pharmacy and — like me — dietetics.

How Informatics Plays a Role in My Day

For me, a typical day is a mix of meeting with clinicians who need new orders, maintaining our orders and order sets (or "power plans"), and helping users who are having computer issues.

For instance, when a physician wants to offer a new treatment protocol for the children of St. Jude, we meet with the team to understand what needs to be built so that all of the orders can be entered electronically. These are some of the considerations: Who will enter the orders? Will charges be dropped appropriately? Do the users need to be notified by email, paging or reports? Do automatic alerts need to fire based on the patient's individual profile?

Maintaining the EHR includes testing new functionality that updates to the Cerner code level afford us. It is fun to see what new functionality might be available to help our users do their work easier. And, it is gratifying to help users with questions about how to use the system and to report issues. Many times, it is just a training question, but sometimes we troubleshoot problems to be resolved.

Getting Involved

I decided to volunteer to work with the Academy's nutrition informatics activities after I took the AMIA/Academy 10×10 class, and saw how much is going on. I have enjoyed using my familiarity with the EHR and interfaces to help the Academy make sure that the Nutrition Care Process and the terms that support them are represented in standards adopted by the Cerners of the world.

Come join the Nutrition Informatics Committee (NIC) and the Interoperability and Standards Committee (ISC)!

Cathy Walsh on Twitter
Cathy Walsh
Cathy Welsh Walsh, MS, RD, is a senior clinical analyst at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Follow her on Twitter.