Technology in Practice: What are eHealth Competencies and Why Should I Care?

  •   January 4, 2018
  •  Leanne Loranger, PT, Manager Policy and Practice

Perhaps, like me, you have heard the comment that the physiotherapy profession is “sleepwalking into oblivion.” Most commonly I’ve heard this phrase used as a rallying cry for physiotherapists to pay attention to the health landscape and avoid having our scope of practice eroded or infringed upon by other professions. However, I think there is another very real risk that we face as a profession. It’s the risk of failing to keep up with technological advances and the competencies required to use these technologies. Despite being what many people would consider a hands-on profession, we are not one that is exempt from the influence and adoption of technology in many aspects of our daily work, nor should we be.

What are eHealth competencies?

Whenever Physiotherapy Alberta uses the term competent we are referring to having the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to perform a certain skill or engage in a specified activity. When applied to eHealth, we are referring to the ability to work in an increasingly electronically mediated health-care environment and to use technologies ranging from email and electronic records, to informatics or big data.

In a broad sense, there are three groupings of competencies to consider:1

  1. Basic Computer Skills
  2. Clinical Information Management Competencies
  3. Informatics Literacy

What’s the difference between Clinical Information Management and Informatics?

Biomedical Informatics is a field of study “that deals with the storage, retrieval, and optimal use of biomedical information, data, and knowledge for problem solving and decision making.”1 Clinical Informatics is a subset of biomedical informatics which focuses on “the representation, collection, retrieval, and use of health information in clinical practice.”1 Clinical Informatics applications include treatment algorithms, clinical decision-making aids and information systems intended to improve health outcomes and patient care.1

Clinical Information Management refers to “a system that provides integrated data related to clinical performance”2 and includes the more day-to-day, clinical practice-related systems such as electronic medical records, billing systems, and laboratory and DI reporting systems.2 Simply put, informatics relates to the many possible uses of aggregate, de-identified big data while clinical information management relates to the day-to-day tasks that physiotherapists may use electronic systems to complete and the generation of patient-level data.

Planning for the Future - What Skills Do I Need?

Different health professionals and different roles within health organizations require distinct competencies related to informatics and clinical information management. One useful resource to help define these competencies is hitcomp.org (short for Health Information Technology Competencies).

HITCOMP contains a searchable database that allows the user to review the skills required to fulfill a variety of health-care roles in different practice settings. According to the database, physiotherapists require an intermediate level of competence in electronic health technology use.3 With that knowledge in mind, you can search the database based on the role in question. HITCOMP role classifications include direct patient care, administration, and research, among others. Reviewing the HITCOMP competencies will help you to understand the competencies required as health care becomes increasingly electronic, and to identify gaps that you may need to address. HITCOMP also defines several baseline competencies which are “a foundation level upon which all other skills and competencies are based.” Examples of baseline competencies identified by HITCOMP include:

  •  “Enter data into computer and technology devices quickly, with an acceptable degree of accuracy.
  • Use word processing programs to create, edit, store, and retrieve document files.
  • Define primary data, secondary data, discrete data sources, data analysis, data modeling and data reporting.
  • Define informatics and understand its importance in the design, development, implementation, training, testing, support and optimization of health IT/eHealth.”3

No matter what role you fulfill, a future ready workforce requires some basic computer skills. As one author noted, our new graduates are entering practice, and indeed enter their academic programs with considerable computing skills already in place.4 But what about our seasoned clinicians? If you’ve been in practice for a while, and like me graduated at the dawn of the internet age, you may find this checklist of basic computing skills and knowledge a useful tool to evaluating the computing skills you have, and the ones you need to develop.

Category Familiar with and able to use: Yes/No
Device Use

Features of computers, handheld devices, tablets:
Bluetooth devices, keyboarding, peripheral devices (i.e. printers, USB drives), mouse and touch pad use
Uploading files and downloading files and data
Shared file servers
Internet browsers and the World Wide Web
Cloud Computing

 
Application Use

E-mail: Create, send, respond, attach and receive/download attachments
Basic Applications: Word processing, spreadsheets, slide show creation
Multimedia presentations: Videos, podcasts, blogs, YouTube

 
Learning

Use for self-directed learning
Online collaborative learning

 
Social Networking Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn  
Operation System Create, manage or delete files, identify active printers, access applications  

Adapted from Canada Health Infoway. Nursing informatics: Entry-to-practice competencies for Registered Nurses.4


  1. Wilkinson SG, Chevan J, Vreeman D. Establishing the centrality of health informatics in physical therapist education: If not now, when? Journal of Physical Therapy Education 2010; 24(3):10-15.
  2. Pizzi LT, Howell JB, Deshmukh A, Cohen H, Nash DB. Clinical information management systems: An emerging data technology for inpatient pharmacies. American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy 2004; 61(1)   https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/466686
  3. HITCOMP. Health Information Technology Competencies. Available at http://hitcomp.org Accessed December 13, 2017.
  4. Canada Health Infoway. Nursing Informatics: Entry-to-practice competencies for Registered Nurses. Ottawa: Canadian Association of Schools of Nursing, 2012.