After my mother arrived in New York City from Jamaica, West Indies, in the 1970s, she started working as a nurse’s aide, as did many Caribbean immigrants to the United States at the time. It was a path to financial stability for our family of five, and it was more than that. She worked at a nursing home my entire childhood and enjoyed developing personal friendships with staff. She often told stories about the warm relationships she developed with patients and their families.
My sister and I followed in our mother’s footsteps, and nursing became the family profession. As was the case with my mother, the people-oriented, mission-driven nature of the field appealed to me. But I soon became interested in the potential for technology to improve how we manage the enormous amount of information generated daily by doctors, nurses, and other clinicians. That interest would ultimately set me on a new career path and lead to my current work in health information technology and public policy research at Mathematica.
In the latter half of the 1990s, after college, I spent five years as a registered nurse working in New York City hospitals, and my experience hammered home the need for a better way to collect, store, and organize patient records. I will never forget the many times a fellow nurse and I would scrutinize a physician’s handwriting on a prescription to ensure we were giving a patient the right dose. Other times, I would have to visit the pharmacy nine floors down to check on the availability of a medication, because phone lines were busy and the computer terminals in the nursing unit were limited to laboratory information.
Eventually, I went back to school to earn a graduate degree in nursing informatics and applied this education to help hospitals implement new electronic health record systems. It was gratifying to know that by helping hospitals use data to improve quality of care and by enabling staff to streamline medication orders within each hospital unit, I was making my fellow nurses’ lives a little easier.
Thankfully, technological innovation has advanced quite a bit since my early days as a nurse. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2010 accelerated adoption of electronic health records, which are now ubiquitous in health care settings. Over the past decade, we’ve seen the widespread digitization of health data, but the tools to access that data haven’t always delivered the expected advances in usability and quality of care. Part of what excites me about my current role at Mathematica is the opportunity to inform policies and programs that can influence the national implementation of clinical systems.
Technological capacity has been a focus in the last 20 years, but we now need to ensure that electronic records can “talk to each other” once they’re installed. Recent government regulations are already pushing the field toward better interoperability. Currently, about 90 percent of hospitals and 80 percent of physicians use electronic records. We need to break down information silos and jump-start the next major phase of digitizing health care. Through various initiatives, Mathematica is helping clients adopt emerging data standards such as Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) to modernize data exchange for quality measurement.
My mother, now a retired nurse’s aide, lives in New York. I live in Maryland, and as a partner in her care, I sometimes need to reach one of her physicians or help her access diagnostic results online. It can be frustrating and time-consuming to navigate the bureaucracy. I’m hopeful that health informatics and smart policies that maintain privacy while enabling data sharing can make these routine tasks easier for patients and caregivers.
I entered a career in health care to help people. It’s been a journey of constant learning and rapid change. I’m excited to meet future challenges with my team at Mathematica, using informatics and research to advance digital innovation for public well-being.