Monday, January 4, 2010

Defining medical "informatics"

How do you define "medical informatics?" How about "health informatics?" Clinical informatics? Biomedical informatics? Public health informatics? The list just goes on...

I had gotten into some interesting conversations about this topic, so I decided to look at Wikipedia, and here's what I found:
Health informatics, Health care informatics or medical informatics is the intersection of information science, computer science, and health care. It deals with the resources, devices, and methods required to optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information in health and biomedicine. Health informatics tools include not only computers but also clinical guidelines, formal medical terminologies, and information and communication systems. It is applied to the areas of nursing, clinical care, dentistry, pharmacy, public health and (bio)medical research.
Wow, this is an extremely broad definition, isn't it? Some people only think of electronic health records (EHRs) or electronic medical records (EMRs) when they hear the phrase "medical informatics." Others focus on inpatient uses of computerized physician order entry (CPOE) and we often lose focus on the broader concept associated with informatics.

The AMIA (American Medical Informatics Association) defines informatics this way:
Biomedical and health informatics applies principles of computer and information science to the advancement of life sciences research, health professions education, public health, and patient care. This multidisciplinary and integrative field focuses on health information and communication technologies (HICT), and involves the computer, cognitive, and social sciences. Biomedical and health informatics has developed its own areas of emphasis and approaches that sets it apart from other professions and disciplines.

Biomedical and health informatics is an emerging, interdisciplinary and diverse field that:
  •  Combines health sciences (such as medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and allied health) with computer science, management and decision science, biostatistics, engineering and information technology.
  •  Solves problems in health care delivery, pharmaceutical, biomedical and health sciences research, health education and clinical/medical decision making.
  •  Is essential in all aspects of health care and biomedicine.
So, how do you define health informatics?


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Thanks for the interesting post. I have used "informatics" for decades and believe it is a powerful and useful term. Coined in Europe where it is more widely used, in the U.S. almost nobody uses it except in healthcare and some academic settings. It has been a touchstone for my consulting practice at MINDWEST Strategies, where I have given it a working definition: "the 'nervous system' of computers, communications and management practices powering successful ventures in the Knowledge Economy ..." ( It transcends the strictly machine-oriented understanding of cybernetics -- as pioneered in Kobayashi's 1985 visionary discussion of "computers and communications" ( -- to include the seamless enmeshment of machine intelligence with human intelligence and social systems for the purpose of sentient decision making and coherent action. Informatics instantiate what Tielhard de Chardin envisioned more grandly as the noosphere. In practical terms, smart "informatics" help to synchronize complex systems of the sort Margaret Wheatley discussed in "Leadership and the New Science" ( Maybe the usage in healthcare has struck a chord because allopathic medicine has an intuitive appreciation for the interleaving of systems essential to healthy function. The idea is just as relevant to any enterprise trying to be cost-effective across boundaries. In another formulation, MINDWEST Strategies ( talks about Corporate IQ (sm). This is akin to the marketing slogan from SUN Microsystems some years ago: "The network IS the computer." Informatics enable the technology, people and social rules that ARE the "organism." - John S. Hale

  3. The course overview for "Introduction to Informatics" at Arizona State University includes this useful graphic:

  4. Elaborating one further step into the medical realm, this NIH graphic is also interesting:

  5. Another attempt at defining informatics comes from a paper I published last year:
    Hersh WR, A stimulus to define informatics and health information technology, BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, 2009, 9: 24,