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Infobuttons: What are they and why should you care?

By Joy Graham, MLS, AHIP
Barnett-Briggs Medical Library
San Francisco General Hospital
San Francisco, CA

I chose the “Electronic Health Record” table at the Chapter Council Sharing Roundtables Luncheon at MLA’s 2007 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia because I felt sorry for it. It needed a recorder and I thought, “Who’s going to want to talk about THAT?” Also, curiosity entered in. I had heard some intriguing things about incorporating knowledge-based information into the patient’s electronic medical record and wondered if possibly this is what the discussion would be about.

As it turned out, I needn’t have worried about the lack of popularity of the topic because it attracted enough people for not one, but two tables. And indeed the issue was what I thought it might be. Everyone at our table agreed that this was absolutely, indisputably, undeniably the hottest application to come down the medical informatics/medical librarianship superhighway since, well, the beginnings of EBM in the early ’90s. By association, that made the librarians at our two tables the hippest, most astute, clued-in individuals in the profession.

That having been established, my next step was to try to understand what exactly the concept was. Steven, one of my tablemates, graciously explained that infobuttons are being developed to give clinicians context-sensitive knowledge-based information at the point of care by introducing a federated search feature across licensed digital content to come up with results specific to the patient and applicable to the questioner. Wow, very cool.

Several librarians at our table were already involved in demonstration projects to determine the capabilities and limits of the technology and to explore the possibilities for applications. One described a project at her hospital integrating their clinical decision making tool, their patient information resource, and EPOC (evidence at the point of care) to provide a seamless interface with the electronic medical record. Seamlessness, i.e., not interrupting the clinician’s workflow, is good because research has shown that if the clinician doesn’t find the answer in 30 seconds, fuggedaboudit.

The group also discussed the importance of HL7, an element critical to the future development of infobutton technology. HL7 is the messaging standard to which content providers and other information technologists will need to adhere if they want their products to play nicely with other products and with the medical record.

So that’s what infobuttons are. Why should you care? Several images come to mind. One is a herd of wild horses. Might as well get on one and try to ride rather than be trampled. No, too violent. How about a wave of the future and a surfboard? Better. Better yet: the artist, palette and easel. Librarians are in a unique position to work collaboratively with content providers, IT professionals and end users to create a masterpiece. Why not grab a brush?

Editor’s Note: For more information —

  • Check out these selected references on infobuttons from PubMed.
  • Visit the HL7 website for more information about this standard. Health Level Seven is one of several American National Standards Institute (ANSI)-accredited Standards Developing Organizations (SDOs) operating in the healthcare arena; HL7 focuses on clinical and administrative data.
  • See the report, Ending the Document Game: Connecting and Transforming Your Healthcare Through Information Technology, from the Commission on System Interoperability. The Commission, authorized by the Medicare Modernization Act, was charged to develop a strategy to make healthcare information instantly accessible at all times, by consumers and their healthcare providers.

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