The National Library of Medicine (NLM) defines Health Informatics as “the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption, and application of Information Technology (IT)-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management, and planning.” Health Informatics is a multidisciplinary field that uses information technology to improve the healthcare system, which aims to achieve higher quality and efficiency. Health Informatics focuses on the proper use of resources, devices, systems, and methods to attain efficient acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information. Health Informatics utilizes IT to deliver accurate information to the right people at the right time.
Health Informatics is also referred as Medical Informatics or Health Information Systems. It is the study of how Health Information Technology can be applied to healthcare or medical fields. It leverages information technology devices, related healthcare resources, and relevant methodology to effectively communicate healthcare and medical information to its patients and healthcare providers. It also provides medical professionals, consultants, doctors, nurses, and hospital administrators with easy and quick access to electronic or digital records.
Health Informatics strives to overcome challenges developing methods and tools to process information for diagnostics, early recognition, prevention, therapy, and therapy simulation. It aims to resolve issues in health consulting and reporting, medical information documentation, and knowledge-based decision-making.
With proper collection, storage, and communication of information resources, healthcare providers can make better administrative and clinical decisions that yield better care.
Health Informatics has revolutionized patient information collection, recording, and retrieval by replacing archaic collection methods. In 1949, a German physician named Gustav Wagner founded the German Society for Medical Documentation, Computer Science and Statistics, the world’s first professional informatics organization. Healthcare professionals and healthcare establishments rapidly embraced the use of computers. In the 1960s, Germany, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands pioneered specialized university departments and informatics training programs. In the 1970s, the United States and Poland revolutionized medical informatics research. Subsequently, high-caliber research in Health Informatics, education, and infrastructure has been one of the top priorities in the implementation of health programs.
The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) established the first standards in healthcare data reporting. Data reporting included electronic healthcare system properties, laboratory data exchange, message exchange, health information security system, and data content. Healthcare informatics has dramatically improved over the years, with pharmacy and radiology standardized data exchange protocols growing fast. Today, pharmacy informatics and imaging informatics are two unique specialty studies under the umbrella of Health Informatics.
Health Informatics professionals still face the challenge of achieving interoperability between different formats to make information available across all areas of the healthcare sector. Healthcare organizations are forced to utilize custom programming solutions to make dissimilar systems compatible for information exchange. Individuals who have ample knowledge of and training in IT and patient care standards are presented with ample opportunities in the continuously evolving and improving new branch of informatics.
Health Informatics was influenced by the health data analytic systems, and the Electronic Health Record (EHR), by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Over time it has expanded with the initiation of health data exchange systems like Fast Health Interoperability Resources (FHIR) and Health Level 7 (HL7).
The first period, lasting from 1955 to 1965, was dedicated to testing and scrutinizing of different emerging technologies related to the medical field. The pioneers of the first period were Joshua Lederberg and William S. Yamamoto who showed interest in automatic calculation in the 1940s. As the first medical expert to work on a computer in relation to medical science, Robert S. Ledley (1926-2012) developed his first important work in automated medical decision making, together with Lee Browning (1994-).
The development of the Biomedical Programs (BMDP) software by Wilfrid J. Dixon (1915-2008) paved the way for the use of computers in biostatistics. This was another major step in the early development period of Health Informatics. The introduction of Arpanet invented by Timothy John Berners-Lee (1955-), is considered an essential step for the development of computerized medical applications.
The second period lasted from 1965 until 1975. By this period, Western European countries were mounting various healthcare systems such as medical equipment with built-in computers. New biomedical engineering methods were also developed, as well as new therapeutic procedures and diagnostic practices. Health Informatics development was pioneered in Europe by Peter L. Reichertz (1930-1987), Germany and Francois Gremy (1929-), France.
The third period lasted from 1975 until 1985. The development of technology made computer systems cheaper and led to the development of IT at all healthcare system levels. More people began to access adequate education to Health Informatics using computer systems. This paved the way for the emergence for more HI experts.
This period gave rise to numerous healthcare software packages, and the rights to purchase and own personal computers with boosted technology and memory capacities. This development in IT influenced Health Informatics. Computers from home could be connected directly to healthcare information systems in health care centers.
The fourth period lasted from 1985 till 1995. This period marked an entirely new phase in the development of Health Informatics and IT at large. Artificial Intelligence (AI) began its development. Various researches were conducted on the improvement of health information methods and the possibility of infusing AI with the healthcare system, alongside the of this system in therapy and medical diagnostics.
AI was originally developed in Health Informatics as a separate sub-field and was used by various healthcare expert systems. The systems in this period constituted commutative elements by the infusion of modern communication systems.
The Fifth period began in 1995 and is still ongoing. The emergence and development of Health Informatics have significantly expanded from the regular use of computers. The development of Health Informatics influenced the development of telecommunication technologies and the microprocessor. Without electronic devices, Health Informatics would not be in existence today. The introduction of electronic computers with network terminals infused various methods of informatics into healthcare work sites, which served as part of the basis for healthcare development.
Health Informatics is an evolving discipline caught in the intersection of changing fields. Some view the field as an engineering and management discipline, whilst others see it as a science which may be both theoretical and applied. Health Informatics comprises Information Technology, Health Information Administration, and Clinical Informatics.
1.4.1. HEALTH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY
Health Information Technology provides an ideal medium for the secure and efficient exchange of medical information among healthcare providers, patients, and other involved parties. One can expect an improvement in quality and administrative efficiencies: reduction of medical errors, reduction in paperwork, therefore lowering costs. It is imperative to preserve the privacy and security of the electronic health information transmitted across various medical practices.
1.4.2. HEALTH INFORMATION ADMINISTRATION
Health Information Administration is comprised of business administration and computer technology-integrated medical record keeping. It involves a diverse range of studies which include technical communications, accounting, medical terminology, medical coding, statistical analysis, and ethics. Its application involves health information service, clinical record-keeping, patient information management, patient data analysis, medical coding, and compliance and insurance analysis.
Experts design and manage healthcare information systems to meet medical, legal and ethical standards. They also supervise computer information systems, collect and analyze patient information records, and use classification guidelines and medical terminologies. Unlike health information technicians, health information administrators also oversee record departments and operate in the business administration.
1.4.3. CLINICAL INFORMATICS
Clinical Informatics bridge the gap between computer technology, research, and medical skills. Experts in Clinical Informatics use their experience in biomedical informatics to solve problems in the various domains of healthcare. Clinical informaticists, through analyzing medical data or images, help clinical healthcare providers access information. Clinicians can easily access and use health data through developed Health IT systems.
Clinical Informatics encompasses a wide scope of topics ranging from clinical support, decision-making, visual imaging, clinical documentation of information, order entry systems, system design, as well as implementation and adoption issues. These topics play a center role in specialties such as dermatology, pathology, and ophthalmology.
Clinical Informatics experts are not only expected to be proficient in computer programming, they should also know human anatomy and other basic fields of medicine.