Healthcare informatics is a field and general discipline that is basically a combination of information technology and healthcare. It is made up primarily of computer systems and software programs with the main goal of developing more efficient and intuitive ways of controlling stored health information, managing clinical workflow tasks, and improving the general security of healthcare information. This sort of informatics is largely bound up in technology, but also requires a high degree of specialization for the world of medicine. In certain respects it’s similar to other sorts of informatics, like for sales or business operations, but in others — particularly where privacy and data sensitivity are concerned — it’s really different. It also must evolve as quickly as both technology and healthcare do, which often means that it’s constantly changing.
Informatics generally looks for ways of using technology to simplify data and information sets, and things are no different in the healthcare realm. The biggest distinction between this and other related fields is the nature of the information being stored and accessed.
One of the biggest objectives of healthcare informatics is to formulate a standard approach for healthcare internationally. This ideally would include a streamlined system for storing health information in almost all forms. Data is organized as related to patients, to different diseases and treatments, and to practices and advice, then it is made more or less universally available. Researchers, providers, and patients are all involved in different degrees. In an ideal system the different informatics tools, techniques, concepts, and protocols will influence not just how care is provided, but may help shape best practices in diagnosing and treating patients, too.
In most cases a lot of different tools are used together in order to create the needed networks and infrastructures. Computers and software programs are some of the most common, but a range of Internet networking devices, online communications platforms, and cloud storage systems come into the mix depending on provider and individual capabilities.
The tools needed aren’t limited just to information technology, though. Systems must also allow for the assimilation of clinical directives, an understanding of formal medical jargon, the storage of data, and the transmission of clear communication. Medical informatics can be applied in all types of health environments, including primary care, general practice, hospital care, and rehabilitation. It is also inclusive of many of the specialties within the healthcare field.
These sorts of information systems may be used to create greater operating efficiencies in three basic functions of healthcare: clinical, administrative, and financial. For example, healthcare informatics is pivotal in the movement to cut costs and enhance patient care by implementing a standardized system for electronic medical records. It is also a key to expanding the development health information systems for billing, clinical research, client scheduling, and the exchange of medical information.
Medical professionals can also take advantage of these sorts of systems as a way to try and make better decisions. Health-related knowledge seems to grow exponentially, and many informatics platforms include what is known as “clinical decision support systems” (CDSS). CDSS are designed to help practitioners stay on top of new trends and diagnostic patterns. Related tools called “electronic prescribing systems” (EPS) eliminate the need for hand-written prescriptions and minimize errors. Informatics also allow for data mining to determine the effectiveness of drugs, which may reduce the cost of treatments, lessen mistakes, and help further advancements in the quality of care.
Many experts agree that one of the field's biggest challenges is getting medical providers committed to the widespread implementation of the various information technology components. Universal accessibility and streamlining can make things more efficient, but only if the systems are designed to really work together and operate smoothly. This can take a bit of network engineering and long-term commitments from many players in the healthcare field.
Legal concerns also usually need attention. Different jurisdictions have different rules when it comes to things like health privacy, ethics, and the sharing of identifying information online or over computer networks. Informatics engineers usually need to be aware of the rules in any jurisdiction the network touches, and providers and technicians both usually need to receive training on how to use computerized and digitized systems within the parameters allowed by law.
As a Career Field
There tend to be many different sorts of jobs in this field, though the specifics of what professionals do and how they must be trained does vary a bit based on the particular job at hand. Many of the people responsible for building the infrastructures initially come from mainly computer science and computer engineering backgrounds, and typically have university-level training. Actually implementing the systems into a medical practice, billing suite, or hospital requires different skills, as does training personnel to use the system's many tools. These sorts of jobs more often require specific training in health sciences or informatics management. Many universities offer degree or certificate programs in these areas.