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Importance of Health Informatics

written by: Jason C. Chavis • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 3/31/2010

Health informatics is the centralized procurement and use of data regarding specific aspects of the medical industry. The importance of health informatics and technology can have profound effects on the future of medicine, most notably how care is administered and information is collected.

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    Uses of Health Informatics

    The importance of health informatics has long-reaching implications for a variety of fields of medicine. The general principles associated with the concept include the use of standardized informational science to provide better health care for patients. Health informatics optimizes the medical industry's ability to acquire, store, retrieve and utilize information about patients, diseases and treatment options. One of the key aspects, as the technology becomes more prevalent within the industry, is the centralization of databases and information. The overall goal of health informatics is to streamline processes and provide more efficient and planned treatments for patients by biomedical researchers, clinicians, dentists, doctors, nurses, pharmacists and public health officials.

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    Developing the Technology

    VA Medical Record Health informatics was first conceived of during the 1950s by the U.S. National Bureau of Standards for use with dental patients to identify different statistics on routine and advanced procedures. However, it wasn't until the 1970s and the creation of the MYCIN software system at Stanford University that the importance of health informatics became prevalent. The MYCIN system used rudimentary algorithms and identification techniques to analyze and diagnose blood clotting diseases as well as infections caused by bacteria. Utilizing this system, doctors could easily find the correct antibiotics and medicines to use on patients, standardizing treatment. Shortly thereafter, the International Medical Informatics Association was established, regulating the field.

    During the following decades, different systems were created and many organizations implemented internal programs to utilize the technological advancements. Some of the forerunners include the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, the National Library of Medicine and the Veterans Affairs Administration (VA). These systems allowed different facilities, notably the VA, to locate and analyze records from patients. This streamlined the treatment process and allowed greater speed and accuracy for its patients across over 1,000 facilities nationwide.

    Above right: VA Medical Record. (Supplied by the US Department of Veterans Affairs; Public Domain; http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/8/8f/VistA_Img.png)

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    Utilization of the Data

    Beginning in 2004, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services addressed the importance of health informatics to the future of the health care industry by establishing a program that would institute widespread use of computer systems to control information on patients, procedures and insurance records. This plan, scheduled over the course of 10 years, is headed by the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Electronic health records became a prime focus of the initiative, prompting the establishment of the Certification Commission for Healthcare Information Technology, an organization that is tasked with ensuring the proper procedures and standards are applied at all levels of the realignment. All vendors need to be certified by this agency.

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    Legal Aspects of Health Informatics

    Information technology within the medical field can be a challenging legal subject. In addition to the permanence of digital records, issues with privacy and ethics play into concerns from both the public and industry alike. Dangers associated with central databases, such as identity theft and file corruption, mean that the importance of health informatics in the future can have large scale ramifications for society at large. Due to the importance of these issues, a number of laws are presently being established to make sure that operation issues are addressed and security is at the forefront of technological advancements.

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    Resources

    Institute for Health Informatics at the University of Minnesota: http://www.ihi.umn.edu/

    American Medical Informatics Association: https://www.amia.org/

Health Informatics

With the continued progress of technology, one of the greatest advances involving the changing landscape of medical care is the development of health informatics.
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