50+ Years of Complexity:
The History of Health Informatics
The field of health informatics, as we know it now, emerged when computer technology became sophisticated enough to manage large amounts of data. There were earlier experimentations in the field of dentistry, but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that health informatics began to standardize as a field of study.
According to HIMSS, Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, the first standards for healthcare data reporting were established by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). These include standards for “laboratory message exchange, properties for electronic health record systems, data content, and health information system security.”
The first electronic medical record appeared soon after and new nomenclature for specific disciplines and services took shape. The subspecialty of bioinformatics was introduced in the late 1970’s as the study of biological data, including DNA. Meanwhile, professional associations and government entities worked to further define the format for patient registration, orders, observation, discharge, insurance claims, and financial transaction messages.
As health information technology continued to improve, so did requests for standardized data exchange protocols for disciplines like radiology and pharmacy. Today, imaging informatics and pharmacy informatics are two uniquely specialized areas of study for individuals pursuing a master’s in health informatics.
Global standards were ultimately included as well, making the field of health informatics into the complex and still developing discipline that it is today. Perhaps the great irony of the field is that there is no standard when it comes to the technology behind the data. Hospital systems may have two or more different software systems in place.
Clinical information systems professionals have the challenge of achieving interoperability between various formats in order to ensure information availability across all areas of the healthcare enterprise. However, in the final analysis, many health organizations have no choice but to opt for custom programming solutions to integrate dissimilar systems. There is tremendous opportunity for individuals who have the knowledge and training to continue evolving and improving the standards for both technology and patient care.
The future belongs to the creative and analytical informaticist who can serve as a liaison between the information technology team and clinicians. Understanding both sides of the health informatics equation is a must to engender collaboration, champion new initiatives, and move your career forward.