The Science Journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care

2004 OPEN FORUM Abstracts

Is Respiratory Care Informatics a Legitimate Area of Study within the Science of Respiratory Care?

Constance Mussa, M.S., RRT - Metropolitan Jewish Geriatric Center, Brooklyn, New York, Yedidyah Langsam, PhD - Department of Computer & Information Science, Brooklyn College of CUNY, Brooklyn, NY

BACKGROUND: Advances in information technology have accelerated the growth of informatics to the extent that informatics has now become an important field of study in our society. While there are many variations on the definition of informatics, the key component of all such definitions is that informatics involves a combination of computer science and information science. When used in conjunction with the name of a discipline, the terminology denotes an application of computer science and information science to the management and processing of data, information and knowledge in the named discipline 1. To date, the only healthcare groups that have integrated informatics as a legitimate discipline within their respective professions are physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and dentists. The allied health professions such as physical therapy, respiratory care, occupational therapy, nutrition and dietetic sciences, and speech and hearing sciences, to name a few, do not seem to be actively involved in the science of medical informatics.

DESIGN, SETTING, AND PARTICIPANTS: Two different questionnaires (one for respiratory care managers and the other for staff therapists) designed to determine the strengths, weaknesses, and usefulness of existing respiratory care information systems were distributed to 50 respiratory therapists. Survey participants were selected using a combination of purposive and snowball sampling. Of the 50 questionnaires distributed, 26 responses were obtained.

MEASUREMENTS AND RESULTS: Participants completed a paper-and-pencil survey assessing professional activities (business functions), information needs and uses of respiratory therapists, work flow (data and process flow), communication, data storage and retrieval, system utility, and decision support. Of the 26 participants, 19 were staff therapists and 7 were managers. 85% of all the respiratory therapists surveyed work in hospitals, 50% care for patients ranging in age from neonatal to geriatric, and 50% care for adult and geriatric patients only. 29% of the respiratory care managers surveyed said that data storage is paper-based and 71% said that data storage is a combination of both paper files and computer files. 53% of the staff therapists surveyed said that data storage is paper-based, 26% said that data storage is a combination of paper and computer files, and 21% said that data storage is strictly computer-based. 28% of the respiratory care managers said that their existing information system is very useful, 14% said that it is useful, 43% said that it is somewhat useful, and 15% said that it is not useful. For the staff therapists, 16% said that their existing information system is very useful, 26% said that it is useful, 47% said that it is somewhat useful, and 11% said that it is not useful. All therapists (managers and staff) surveyed said that they rely on colleagues, books, and manuals for decision support rather than on computerized decision support systems.

CONCLUSIONS: The information systems used by respiratory therapists appear to have marginal utility and have problems with data storage and retrieval. This is due to the prevalence of information systems that do not employ computerized databases and computerized databases that are not equipped with a full-scale database management system (DBMS). This is a significant finding since accepted computer science database theory asserts that an inadequate data storage and retrieval system compromises data integrity and consistency of data. Furthermore, inadequate data storage and retrieval results in data redundancy and ultimately, inaccurate information. Development of data models specific to the respiratory care profession may also be necessary to build databases with conceptual schemas that accurately reflect the professional activities of respiratory therapists. More rigorous, scientific studies need to be done to validate the accuracy of these findings.

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