Multidisciplinary Informatics Specialties: Types & Examples

Instructor: Patricia Jankowski

Patricia is an experienced registered nurse who has worked in various acute care areas as well as in legal nurse consulting. She also has a BSChE.

Like nearly all modern industries, healthcare is evolving rapidly due to the proliferation of computers and information technology. This lesson will examine various types of health-related informatics specialties.

Keeping Up With The Demands

As the healthcare industry continues to grow, so does the demand for health-related data management. The Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act, or HITECH, was made into law by President Obama in 2009. It stipulated that starting in 2011, healthcare providers would be given financial incentives for implementing electronic health record, or EHR, systems in their practices. A MarketsandMarkets report states that the health information technology market in North America ''is expected to reach $104.3 billion by 2020, growing at a compound annual growth rate of 13.5 percent during 2015 to 2020.''

So, it's no surprise that different specialties of healthcare information technologies have evolved to meet these demands! Let's take a look at some of these health-related informatics specialties.

Healthcare information technology is evolving
Healthcare IT

Clinical Informatics

Clinical informatics is often used as a general term that describes the use of computers to store and process healthcare data in facilities like hospitals and doctors' offices. In a sense, it's the big umbrella under which all the other healthcare informatics specialties fall as branches/subfields. In other words, bioinformatics is a type of clinical informatics. However, when we speak of clinical informatics, we're usually talking about the use of data in the actual delivery of healthcare to patients.

An example of clinical informatics would be the introduction of a computerized documentation system in a hospital. Imagine a hospital during the late 1970's when all documentation of patient care including charting, medication administration, lab results, and doctors' orders were done on paper. Charts were stored in a large chart rack and were thick and cumbersome, and medication sheets were stored in small books that nurses carried around. After the patient was discharged, his record went downstairs to a records room, which had hallways with row upon row of old charts that were broken down. If a doctor requested some old records, someone would have to go down there and dig them up.

Now, enter the new computer system! Suddenly, the nurses do not congregate at the nursing station to chart on paper. Instead, they have computers that they wheel around and use to enter patient data like vital signs and medication administration while they care for the patient at the bedside. All of this data is stored electronically, can be seen by the rounding physician, and can be summarized and pulled up after discharge if needed again for another admission... at this same healthcare facility, or even at another one.

Computer workstation on wheels
workstation on wheels

Public Health Informatics

Public health informatics is the use of computers and information technology in working with issues related to public health, such as monitoring outbreaks of contagious disease and controlling obesity. One example of the use of public health informatics is in epidemiology, which has been defined as ''the study of health in populations to understand the causes and patterns of health and illness.''

Every autumn, the debate rages on about whether or not to get a flu shot, and people go online and vehemently argue about why they think it's a good idea or a bad one. How does public health informatics help us here? Every year, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, collect mountains of data on influenza. Its goal is to measure the effectiveness of the vaccine in various populations such as the elderly, children, and patients with compromised immunity. Public health informatics helps to keep track of all this data and to interpret it statistically to find out whether or not you really should get that flu shot, a job that would take much longer and be much less efficient if only done on paper.

Bioinformatics

Of all the healthcare informatics specialties we've talked about so far, bioinformatics is probably the most complex. Bioinformatics is about developing software and data methods to work with intricate and detailed biological data, like structures of protein molecules. Bioinformatics can be used to create virtual models of these molecules and then the models can be manipulated in laboratories by scientists who are trying to design drugs, to figure out gene sequences, to determine chemical pathways in various body processes, and many other applications.

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