Health care (medical or clinical) informatics is a subdivision of informatics applied in medicine. This field is multidisciplinary and exists to provide higher quality and productivity in medicine. For this purpose, different resources, methods, and tools are used. Health care informatics, in its turn, can also be divided into several units, among which are nursing informatics, physician informatics and others.
Nursing care is all about information. It encompasses recording and interpreting data about the needs of patients, sending this data to other specialists, developing care plans, finding and analyzing information, making reports and so on.
The American Nurses Association (2007) defines nursing informatics as “a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, knowledge and wisdom in nursing practice” (p. 5). According to the American Nurses Association (2007), data, information, and knowledge are the key elements in nursing practice. The principal privilege of applying technologies to gathering and processing all of these is that it speeds up the whole process and helps to identify potential problems as soon as possible. For this purpose, electronic help records (EHR) are used, where “all of an individual’s interactions with the health care system” are stored electronically (Canadian Nurses Association, 2001, par. 3). Therefore, by finding new solutions and creating innovative devices health care informatics can improve patients’ outcomes.
Nursing informatics has been existing for nearly a hundred years. In the second part of the twentieth century, the first applications were made, and although they had limited functionality and language, it was still a breakthrough (Ozbolt & Saba, 2008). The term “nursing informatics” was first seen in literature in 1980 (Maryniak, 2013). Since then, it had been defined in a lot of different ways, and finally, in 1994, the American Nurses Association established certain standards for nursing informatics and gave a proper definition to this concept (Maryniak, 2013). Now, nursing informatics is a field that is still growing, so numerous new breakthroughs are ahead, as well as a lot of academic degrees are to be taken.
This subdivision of informatics exists to provide physicians with additional methods and devices to make their service more effective. The aim of physician informatics is, actually, the same as nursing one. The difference is that other techniques are used. Besides, physician informatics is even more important.
Statistics prove that different physicians’ errors every year cause up to 98,000 deaths of patients (Flanagan, Patterson, Frankel, & Doebbeling, 2009). 15 more million of patients are harmed because of the same reason (Flanagan et al., 2009). The most interesting part here is that not always physicians’ errors are caused by their unprofessionalism or inadvertence. Moreover, the study showed that over 66% of physicians’ mistakes were made due to communication failures (Flanagan et al., 2009). That is why physician informatics is aimed to avoid all sorts of communication failures.
For this purpose, for example, at the University of Washington a patient handoff tool, or PHT, was developed (Flanagan et al., 2009). Transferring a patient’s care from one specialist to another is fraught with a lot of risks, such as repeated use of the same drug, polypharmacy, and others. The PHT task is to extract data about a patient from the EHR and pass it to another physician. Thus, the cross-over specialist can get comprehensive information about a new patient and a lot of possible errors during the treatment can be avoided.
Other areas of health care informatics
Medical informatics has a lot of sub-specialties, and besides the two mentioned above, there are a lot of others, which help to organize different spheres of medicine.
There is pharmacy informatics that concentrates on medication-related information, primarily its storage, analysis, instructions for use and distribution.
There is public health informatics that is used to collect, store and research data concerning public health.
There is consumer health informatics that helps to strengthen the connection between health resources and patients. The primary aim of consumer health informatics is to collect and analyze information about patients’ preferences and needs. It also provides people with the opportunity to control their health with the help of internet resources and online instructions.
Finally, there is bioinformatics that is aimed to process and research biometrical data, developing peculiar software.
It is obvious that these fields are closely connected, and without even one of them, the whole system will not be able to function correctly.
A brief history of health care informatics and its subsections
Health care informatics appeared right after “computer technology became sophisticated enough to manage large amounts of data” (A Brief History of Health Informatics n. d.). That happened in the 1960s. Soon after this, people started to perceive health care informatics as a separate field of study, and the American Society for Testing and Materials defined first existing standards for reporting medical data (A Brief History of Health Informatics n. d.).
In the 1970s, the first subdivisions were introduced, including, for instance, bioinformatics and nursing informatics. Now, this field is still considered to be growing and developing.
Database management in health care
Considering all previous information, it is not surprising that database management is the core element of health care informatics. The medical industry uses a lot of databases, most commonly, online transaction processing databases, or OLTP (Cardon n.d.). For every OLTP database, there is a corresponding application that runs on it. An electronic health record, for example, has its own OLTP database as well.
The major profit of database implementation is the replacement of numerous folders of documents and papers filling up physicians’ cabinets. Another significant benefit is the amount of information that medical systems have been able to store. Besides, since this information is electronic, it provides quicker search and processing.
However, database management has also its challenges. For instance, databases contain a lot of raw and unnecessary data, which should be clarified and presented as useful and systematized knowledge. In the future, this problem should be solved. Another challenge to getting through it in the future is the insufficient protection of data.
The impact of these spheres on health care information
As it was already mentioned before, without even one of its subsections the health care informatics will not be able to work correctly. With the help of nursing informatics, all necessary data about patients can be gathered, organized, structured and synthesized, so that the data transforms into information and knowledge.
Due to physician informatics, communication between physicians and their patients or colleagues becomes easier. Besides, a lot of dangers can be avoided.
Finally, with the help of a variety of databases, all needed information can be captured and stored.
Every branch of health care informatics plays its role, and only their combination makes the common goal achievable.
A Brief History of Health Informatics. (n.d.). Web.
American Nurses Association. (2007). Nursing Informatics: Scope and Standards of Practice. Web.
Canadian Nurses Association. (2001). What is Nursing Informatics and Why is it so Important? Nursing Now, 11, 1-4. Web.
Cardon, D. (n.d.). Understanding The Healthcare Database: Purposes, Strengths, and Weaknesses. Web.
Flanagan, M. E., Patterson, E. S., Frankel, R. M., & Doebbeling, B. N. (2009). Evaluation of a Physician Informatics Tool to Improve Patient Handoffs. Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, 16(4), 509–515.
Maryniak, K.. (2013). Nursing Informatics. Web.
Ozbolt, J. G., & Saba, V. K. (2008). A brief history of nursing informatics in the United States of America. Nursing Outlook, 56(5), 199–205.