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Health Informatics – An Overview

written by: Ricky • edited by: Anurag Ghosh • updated: 12/11/2008

Health care is no longer limited to the foresight and knowledge of doctors, surgeons and physicians and is increasingly dependent on intelligent machine decisions to care for patients. Read on about this interesting technology!

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    Suppose you are very sick (I Pray that you never fall sick but just imagine for purpose of understanding this article) and go to your doctor. Would you feel very comfortable if you see a sophisticated piece of software make a decision on how to treat you or advising your doctor to do the same? Well I am not talking about any sci-fi movie but about the field of health informatics, so let us find out the truth behind this scenario.

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    What is Health Informatics?

    Health informatics is a very broad term is comprised by the combination of two words, “health" & “informatics". I am sure you do not need much explanation for either of these two words for the simple reason that they aren’t Latin or Greek and instead plain English. You must have guessed by now that health informatics as a whole represents an area of knowledge which combines health care and information technology. It can be technically defined as per the American Medical Informatics Association as the area of knowledge which deals with “all aspects of understanding and promoting the effective organization, analysis, management, and use of information in health care (AMIA, 2007)"

    Since health care is a broad term covering various aspects such as public health, dental health and veterinary health to name a few, health informatics also has several branches such as dental informatics, public health informatics and so on.

    If you couldn't understand the technical jargon above and want to read it in the most simple of words, let me again explain it for you. Basically health informatics has to do with all the types of systems and resources which your doctor might need to take care of your medical records and store them in a safe and appropriate manner that are to be used as and when required within permissible limits defined by the law of the land and other governing/regulating agencies.


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    Different Perspective with the Arena

    Health informatics is a broad definition and has several different perspectives from which it can be viewed even for a given classification as described above. For example there could be the aspect of maintaining medical records of patients, storing and retrieving them, using a database of medical knowledge to make better guided decisions for treatment of patients, exchanging information between different health care systems to streamline the overall functioning of an organisation or a region and whole, and so forth. it would not be possible to study all these different perspectives in a single article but I shall attempt to take them up one by one in forthcoming articles.

    You can take a look at the diagram shown in figure 1 below which should give you an idea about the scope and span of a health care informatics system. This particular figure shows an Edit Engine which is useful in integrating different aspects of healthcare. Do not worry if you do not fully comprehend the image but this should give you a digestible recipe of healthcare informatics overview.

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    Figure 1: 3M Edit Engine

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    Figure 1: 3M Edit Engine