The Origins of Health Informatics

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The Health Informatics Field:  Decades Old, Yet Still Emerging

While some scholars date the use of health informatics to the 1800s, the first evidence of computer-generated healthcare data appears in the United States in the mid-1950s. This was when the government first sponsored computer-based medical projects that were conducted by the military, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and others.

Throughout the decades that followed, several professional organizations emerged to reflect a growing interest in the field. These organizations included the American Association for Medical Systems and Informatics (AAMSI), the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI), and the Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care (SCAMC).

In 1988, these three groups merged to create the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), which remains a prominent organization committed to the science, education, and practice of informatics. Many other groups have formed since then, with dozens in existence around the world today.

Here in the United States, some of the most prevalent professional organizations include the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA), Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS), and American Nursing Informatics Association (ANIA). There are also several professional associations specific to the technological, quality, certification, standardization and statistical aspects of health informatics.

We primarily think of health informatics in relation to the healthcare setting itself. This, in reality, is a subgroup of the discipline called as clinical informatics. The practice, by its very nature, requires interdisciplinary collaboration between the care team (physicians, nurses, laboratory, pharmacy and others), information technology experts and hospital administration.

The AMIA describes clinical informatics as including “a wide range of topics ranging from clinical decision support to visual images (e.g. radiological, pathological, dermatological, ophthalmological, etc.); from clinical documentation to provider order entry systems; and from system design to system implementation and adoption issues.”

Clinical informatics is just one area of career opportunity available to professionals who receive their degree in health informatics. There are options to focus on translational bioinformatics or clinical research bioinformatics instead. These specialties apply laboratory study and clinical trial research data to the treatment and prevention of disease. The study of health informatics can also lead to dedicated work in consumer or public health informatics, both of which build from the related disciplines.

Choosing to pursue your education and career in health informatics is an opportunity that you can grow with – in many directions, for many years to come.