Health Informatics: Definitions

The term Health Informatics has been used as an umbrella phrase to embrace Nursing Informatics, Medical Informatics and Dental Informatics.

There are many definitions of the subject matter. The following examples convey the breadth of the field:

“…Informatics is an emerging discipline that has been defined as the study, invention, and implementation of structures and algorithms to improve communication, understanding and management of medical information. The end objective of biomedical informatics is the coalescing of data, knowledge, and the tools necessary to apply that data and knowledge in the decision-making process, at the time and place that a decision needs to be made. The focus on the structures and algorithms necessary to manipulate the information separates Biomedical Informatics from other medical disciplines where information content is the focus.” (Source: Aamir M. Zakaria., MD “Medical Informatics Frequently Asked Questions“, Duke University)

“Nursing informatics is the specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science in identifying, collecting, processing, and managing data and information to support nursing practice, administration, education, research, and the expansion of nursing knowledge.” (Source: ANA Scope of Practice for Nursing Informatics)

“IM&T (Information Management and Technology) is a term which covers the use and management of information and information systems. This applies to organised systems of all forms, whether based on human endeavour, paper methods or information technology. The emerging electronic world offers enormous benefits to organisations of all types. However, if the NHS is to gain the most from innovation and technology it must approach IM&T systematically in a controlled and well planned environment.” (Source: the UK IMG Web site)

“Dental informatics is the application of new information technologies to dental practice, education, and research.” (Source: Louis M. Abbey and John L. Zimmerman, editors, Dental Informatics, published by Springer)

“The role of the information sciences in medicine continues to grow, and the past few years have seen informatics begin to move into the mainstream of clinical practice. The scope of this field is, however, enormous. Informatics finds application in the design of decision support systems for practitioners, in the development of computer tools for research, and in the study of the very essence of medicine – its corpus of knowledge. The study of informatics in the next century will probably be as fundamental to the practice of medicine as the study of anatomy has been this century.” (Source: Coiera E (1995) Medical Informatics , BMJ, 1995;310:1381-7)

Informatics is assembling, correlating and making effective use of information and decision-making in healthcare delivery. Purves (1996)

Informatics is the applied science of collecting, storing, and retrieving data to support informed decision-making. Bauer J C, Brown W T, Zimnik P R. Computers: wave of informatics will transform profession. Dental Economics 1998 (August); 113-116.

“Dental Informatics may be defined as the application of computer science principles to dentistry”. Schleyer

“Computers, information technology, and information science in support of research, education, and patient care.” Zimmerman

Informatics is the study, invention, and implementation of structures and algorithms to improve communication, understanding, and management of medical information.” Wagner (1995)

Informatics is a formal discipline in an academic setting and it is the key to health care organizations meeting their business goals. Dental Informatics can assist with strategic planning, setting goals and objectives, and decision making, with regard to management applications in dental practices, computer labs, simulations, equipment, and more. Modern information management technology is making its way into every corner of dentistry.

According to Severs and Pearson (1999) delivery of effective healthcare in the 21st century will be dependant on the availability, quality and accuracy of information; on the ability of healthcare professionals to produce, access, use and manage information about individuals; on access to, and use of, information management tools for Evidence-Based Care; on effective systems for communication and good communication skills; and on ensuring safe, secure, ethical and confidential handling of data and information.

An understanding of the principles of Informatics is now as essential to the delivery of effective healthcare as is knowledge of grammar to the production of effective written communication (Stephens 1999). Bauer, Brown and Zimnik (1998) have identified the technological foundations for Informatics:

  • Modern computers, offering immediate access to unprecedented computational power
  • Networks, the combination of information and telecommunication technologies (ICTs) which allow information systems to be built and operated in new ways
  • Digitization, the process of transforming real-world data into computer language

Informatics and the use of computer based tools and resources are now an integral part of progressive dental schools. Innovations within the industry, particularly with internet, intranet and network based computing, hold exciting new opportunities for faculty, staff and students to support educational and patient care processes. A Dental Informatics curriculum teaches basic knowledge about computer systems, how to organize information about a clinical problem, how to understand the system theory behind information system applications, and how to evaluate special dental applications. Practical topics span software applications such as practice management software and computer based oral health records; clinical applications, such as expert systems; as well as infrastructural topics, such as how to buy computers, how to select vendors, and how to plan for implementation. The General Dental Council had this to say in March 1997 concerning the undergraduate dental curriculum:

Progress in information technology, including the area designated as health informatics, will continue and accelerate. These techniques will provide information in a wide variety of formats, supply decision making systems and allow outcomes of treatment to be assessed in ways which can only be achieved in a laborious manner at present. Dental education is suited to take advantage of these developments and the Council wishes to see the opportunities fully grasped.

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