Robert Greenes and Edward
Shortliffe coined the official definition of medical informatics in 1990:
“Medical informatics is the field that concerns itself with the
cognitive, information processing, and communication tasks of medical practice,
education and research including the information science and technology to
support these tasks.” In the same article they went on to describe the
teaching of informatics in medical schools, stressing its intrinsically
interdisciplinary nature. Originally
it was called “computers in medicine"; however that definition quickly
became outdated when it was understood what was really being studied was
information and that health care is more than simply the practice of medicine.
The simplest and broadest definition may be “the application of
information technology to enhance patient care.”
Here at JMU we don’t have a
medical school, but we do have a number of programs that prepare students for
work in medical settings, either as clinicians, administrators, or in the
information technology arena. Doctors
are not the only practitioners who interact with patients (or health care
consumers); nurses, therapists, physician assistants, social workers, and
frequently billing personnel and other administrators all make up the team that
delivers health care services. Behind
the scenes are the network administrators and information systems staff that
manage the flow of data and information. All
of these people need to work together to manage the vast amounts of information
involved in the delivery of health care services, information needed for
diagnosis and monitoring, decision support, patient education, billing and
reimbursement. With this need in mind,
a course was created that would prepare students to
work in interdisciplinary teams to meet health care challenges.
The course was developed in 2001, first offered in the spring of 2002, and
is being offered again this fall. Informatics
for Health Care Professionals is an interdisciplinary class, cross-listed with
nursing, health sciences, social work and ISAT.
The conceptual components of Health Care Informatics include database design; human-computer interaction; medical vocabularies; coding systems; clinical information systems; decision support and analysis (evidence based medicine); use of biomedical and genomic sequencing databases; government regulation of medical information; health literacy and evaluation studies. The following is a description of some of these components of the class currently being offered:
Libraries and librarians are
involved in the study and teaching of health and medical informatics for a
number of reasons. Librarians have
expertise in classifying information, retrieving information, using databases,
teaching information literacy and retrieval, and using controlled vocabularies.
The National Library of Medicine has been a leader in educational efforts
and financial support for research and teaching in Informatics.
Librarians in health sciences and medical libraries and hospitals around
the country are creating innovative ways of integrating the vast amount of
health related information on the Internet into patient care.
At Vanderbilt University there is a service called Patient
Informatics Consult Service (PICS) where patients are given “information
prescriptions” by their doctors. These
prescriptions are taken to the library where they are “filled” by librarians
who are uniquely qualified to assist the patient in finding appropriate
information for them and their health condition. This information prescription is integrated into the patient
record, in an effort to empower the patient to make informed decisions about
their care. This is just one of
many ways librarians are involved in the study and application of informatics in
the health care arena.
Because Informatics is intrinsically interdisciplinary and intertwined with technology, it is a constantly evolving discipline. In addition to health care informatics, there are separate disciplines of nursing informatics, dental informatics, public health informatics, and consumer health informatics, just to name a few. As health care evolves so will the study of informatics. There are many opportunities for expansion of course offerings and for future research in informatics.
Jennifer McCabe, Health Sciences Librarian, is a member of the teaching team for Informatics for Health Care Professionals.--ed.
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