Informatics is a relatively new term that has only been used in the U.S. since 1999. It was first widely used by the iSchool, which created a Bachelor of Science degree in Informatics that focused on the theory and implementation of creating, finding, storing, using, sharing, and manipulating information. Today, it is used in a variety of fields for the application of any technology related to information and how it can be used in science, art, and other applications.
The Definition of the Term
The term “informatics” is often used for programs such as the one created by iSchool because it perfectly summarized the technical education students would get and the focus on solving problems related to information. Those who entered the informatics field would learn theory, implementation, and professional methods for working with information in a variety of fields, including healthcare. There is a large focus on using computer programs and tools to analyze, store, and manipulate information. You may be wondering – are informatics professionals just data scientists? As I’ve argued, there’s really no clear boundary for what makes a ‘real’ data scientist. Informatics is considered a multidisciplinary field, which means it involves a number of different disciplines, including computer science, social sciences, information technology, and more.
What can you do with Informatics?
Informatics can be used to take raw data and refine it into knowledge that can be used to do a number of different jobs. It’s especially useful in healthcare, however, because of the sheer amount of information available to doctors, researchers, and others in the industry. It can be used to develop new computer applications, create 3D models, and even explore how humans interact with electronics and AI. Because the field is still relatively new in terms of industries, it’s still rapidly changing and developing. Let’s look at some specific ways that informatics can be used in the healthcare industry as a way of seeing exactly what this interesting new field is capable of.
Informatics and Healthcare: A Look at Applications
The healthcare industry is always changing thanks to new research. This research generates a huge amount of data on a daily basis, but without informatics specialists to forge this data into something useful, it’s just raw information. Here are just a few of the different ways that informatics can be used to help doctors, researchers, patients, and others in healthcare:
An informatics specialist could pull data related to a procedure and use it to create a series of animations detailing exactly what a patient will experience when having that procedure. This can help patients become more familiar with and comfortable with various procedures, including surgeries, that they may need. They can also create other visualizations like time series plots or histogram distributions of outcomes.
Informatics can also be used to push the research and development of drugs. By analyzing information and sharing it with other researchers, informatics experts can help accelerate the process, leading to drugs becoming available more quickly. This can result in lives being saved or being made more comfortable.
Many hospitals and other medical facilities have made the transition to electronic health records. The database containing these records was most likely designed by someone with an informatics background. These programmers studied the needs of those in the medical profession and used this information along with feedback from doctors to create a medical information system that is efficient and easy to use. These systems, which can also be designed to provide information to patients, allow medical professionals faster access to information.
Patients can actually benefit from these databases in a few other ways. First, it’s now possible for patients to access their health records online, allowing them to quickly see the results of medical tests and to contact their doctors via email. Second, these new information delivery methods help patients keep on top of their health issues. For example, medical smartphone and tablet apps can remind patients when to take their medication, instruct them on how to evaluate their symptoms, and even transmit information back to their doctors on a daily basis.
In addition to creating these databases, informatics can also be used to create extensive health networks that connect researchers and specialists from around the world. These networks make it possible for doctors to consult with their colleagues no matter where they are in the world, sharing their knowledge and their unique methods. These networks can also facilitate the discussion of best practices and methods of treatment by comparing patients and their healthcare progress.
In addition to healthcare, informatics can be applied to mathematics, computer programming, communication, engineering, and much more.
Because informatics is an interdisciplinary field, many who go into it choose to specialize. Again using healthcare as an example, some who go into informatics work in health IT where they combine informatics with more commonplace IT skills. However, others choose to go into Biomedical Informatics (BMI). This scientific field focuses on using biomedical information to effectively solve problems and help medical professionals make decisions.
Specifically, BMI focuses on the study, development, and application of medical theories and processes for the creation, use, storage, and sharing of data related to biomedicine. Because the information is much more focused, the discipline of biomedical informatics is also more focused than that of general informatics. While the overall concept is the same—using information as a tool—the daily work is often very different.
BMI professionals do more than just design databases or analyze data. They often create models and simulations, and some may even do experiments to create new data. All of their work focuses on information related to biological systems. The end result may involve creating new organizational or educational systems, new best practices, or new models of healthcare.
The Future of Informatics
Technology is always changing, and as a field so closely tied to it, it’s very likely that informatics will change, too. In fact, it’s easy to look at the field and see how far it’s come in less than 20 years. When informatics first rose as a discipline in the early 2000s (long before so-called Big Data), most medical facilities were just beginning to migrate to electronic health records. Some were very wary of going digital, while others were already seeing both the pros and cons of such. Today, thanks to informatics experts, electronic records are commonplace, and many of the issues that raised concerns have been dealt with.
Informatics will continue to change, but one thing is pretty clear: with the sheer amount of information generated, stored, and used today, it’s a discipline that is here to stay.