What is Medical Informatics or Health Informatics? How Does the Health Care Industry Handle Massive Amounts of Information

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What is Medical Informatics?

Medical science draws its strength on information. It is about collecting, processing and acting on information. Thus, the roots of medical informatics could be traced back to ancient medical practice. The modern version of medical informatics has evolved rapidly in recent years and what is medical informatics today is only due to the use of advanced information technology in health care applications.

The field of medical informatics, or sometimes also referred to as health informatics, has emerged to address the question of how to manage information in health care. The issue is no longer lack of information, but rather too much information that comes from different sources and different scales. The challenges that medical informatics is currently facing are to clean up this wealth of information available to us through new technologies like electronic medical records, to make sense of the information, and finally to extract something useful from the information.

Heterogeneity is another major issue. Medical informatics brings together people from diverse backgrounds and levels of medical knowledge. One of the major goal of medical informatics is to establish standards and guidelines so despite the differences, practitioners are still able to communicate with each other.

The development of Internet has changed how medical information is accesses and generated. Half of U.S population use Internet on a daily basis, out of those, almost 50% spend time to search for health information. This has changed the way information is provided and retrieved in health care.

Fields of Medical Informatics

What is medical informatics can be clearly understood if we classified it into various fields of medical informatics:

+ Bioinformatics, which focuses on genetic and cellular processes. Bioinformatics is particularly relevant to finding the best treatment for certain diseases.

+ Imaging informatics, which focuses on tissues and organs.

+ Clinical informatics, which focuses on patients and their interactions with the health care system through physicians, nurses, etc. Clinical informatics are based on two sources of information: patient-specific information, which is generated during patient care and knowledge-based information, which is the science underlying health care. The introduction of electronic medical records (EMRs) will generate a large amount of patient-specific information. On the other hand, the implementation of clinical decision supporting system (CDSS) will blur the line between patient-specific information and knowledge-based information.

+ Public health informatics, which focuses on populations. An example of public health informatics is the disease surveillance system.


Handbook of medical informatics https://www.mieur.nl/mihandbook

Greenes RA. Shortliffe EH. Medical informatics. An emerging academic discipline and institutional priority. JAMA.263(8):1990 Feb 23.

Hersh, W. (2002). Medical informatics - improving health care through information. Journal of the American Medical Association, 288: 1955-1958. jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/extract/288/16/1955.

This post is part of the series: Medical Informatics: A Primer

This series articles review the basic concepts and applications of medical informatics.

  1. An Overview of Medical Informatics