What is Informatics?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Informatics is the scientific study of information. This incredibly broad field is sometimes treated as the parent field for information technology and computer science, two fields which rely on informatics to organize, display, and transmit data in ways which are meaningful to users. There are a number of subfields within the discipline of informatics, such as bioinformatics, which involves the application of informatics to the field of biology, classically in the realm of health care.

The early development of informatics can be seen in cave paintings.
The early development of informatics can be seen in cave paintings.

Both natural and artificial systems which involve information can be examined within the framework of information, including the brain, computer systems, and paper filing methods. Informatics is concerned with how data is collected and stored, how it is organized, and how it is retrieved and transmitted. It can also include issues like data security, storage limitations, and so forth.

Informatics is the scientific study of information.
Informatics is the scientific study of information.

Universities and colleges all over the world offer informatics degrees, many with the option to focus on a particular subfield, such as the application of informatics to library science, or the use of informatics in managing supply chains for major companies. Bachelors as well as graduate degrees in informatics are available, allowing people to achieve varying levels of specialty. People in this field are interested in new and innovative ways to handle information, including information which has traditionally been handled in a very particular way, with the goal of increasing accessibility and efficiency.

In addition to looking at the pure mechanics of systems which store, manage, and transmit information, researchers are also interested in the cultural and social implications of information. The ability to store and organize information was a critical development in human evolution, as humans involved techniques ranging from cave paintings to books to describe and explore the world around them. Cultural traditions such as oral storytelling are also an interesting form of informatics, as are the development of tools to help people remember information, such as poems and mnemonics to help people memorize data.

Looking at the different ways in which people personally organize information can also be revealing. Variations in personal techniques for handling information can reveal fundamental differences in underlying brain architecture. Historically, people with brains which differ from the norm have sometimes been socially penalized for their different way of looking at the world, although some of these individuals were able to achieve unique intellectual accomplishments because their brains worked so differently from everyone else's. The natural variations in informatic systems can provide interesting clues and directions for exploration for people who study artificial systems.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Is there is a lot of mathematics in informatics?


@Ivan83 - A good friend of mine is actually in grad school right now for that very subject. He is getting a Masters in Health Science Informatics. Apparently it touches on a lot of the issues that you raised and lots of others that probably none of us would have ever thought of. It sounds like kind of a dry field of study but obviously pretty important.

He already works in the health care industry but I expect once he graduates he will be able to get a really choice job and move up quickly. As you noted this is an important field but it is a difficult one too where not many people have applied training. The skills he gets in the Masters program will really be in demand in the coming years. Something to think about for any of us who are floating through this recession wondering what to do next.


I know that one area where informatics have been and will be extremely important is in the health care industry. Think about how much information is involved with this gigantic field and how much of that information needs to be shared or distilled or compiled.

In the big debate over health care in the last few years there has been a lot of talk about using electronic medical record to boost efficiency and reduce costs. I think this makes perfect sense and its a shame we haven't pursued this goal more aggressively.

But the use of informatics extends beyond just patient records. Data about procedures and outcomes can be collected and studied to determine best practices. Vast stores of info on prescription drugs can be used to flag drug interactions or to suggest generic alternatives. Nurses can use informatics to keep track of the dozens of patients in their care. The applications are really endless. People tend to think of the scalpel and the syringe as the most important tools in medicine, but more often it is data and information.


Information is an exciting field that gets more and more important every day. Fundamentally, informatics is a process of making information more comprehensible. And in today's society we are bombarded with information.

Think about how much information there is on the internet and how hard it can be to find relevant information or quality information or condensed information. It can really be a wasteland out there. But the goal of informatics is to take all these rich and varied sources of information and make them accessible and understandable to a greater number of people. They provide the map through the maze.

I will be watching with great interest as this field continues to grow and evolve over the coming years. There is great potential for the study of informatics to usher in a new age of learning, reason and invention.

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