Health informatics can be defined as:
‘The knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and to promote health’. (Department of Health, 2002a)
Mental health informatics applies to mental health services. Smartphones, social media, iPads, personal computers and the electronic transfer of information are now part of normal day-to-day life. Psychiatrists need to understand the key principles of mental health informatics, both to be able to work effectively now and also to appreciate the opportunities for more effective ways of working in the future which modern information technology (IT) affords.
To use IT successfully requires a certain level of personal competency, although it is not necessary to understand the technology or how the software or ‘app’ is written. (A mobile app is a software program designed to run on tablets and mobile phones.) Technology moves on at great pace and it is likely that personal computers themselves will become obsolete before too long. Many people are using tablets and smartphones to browse the internet and access electronic patient records without a personal computer. The majority of trusts in the NHS use a version of Microsoft Office and all psychiatrists need to be able to use a word processor, an internet browser (e.g. Microsoft Internet Explorer) and an email client (e.g. Microsoft Outlook). A basic understanding of a spreadsheet (e.g. Microsoft Excel) is helpful.
Trusts use email as a standard communication tool but increasingly social media and various related apps are becoming important tools too. Trusts have a Twitter and Facebook presence which medical managers may contribute to. Trusts are keen to move to mobile working because it potentially offers savings in expensive buildings and clinics and is more convenient to patients. Videoconferencing will become more widely used in the future, to speak with both colleagues and patients.
Electronic patient records
The majority of mental health trusts are now largely paperless or at least ‘paper light’ and use an electronic patient record (EPR) system. One of the successes of the now abandoned National Programme for IT has been the widespread provision of EPRs for mental health trusts, with systems such as RiO.