Informatics is a new word to a lot of people. In medicine, it describes the field of information utilization. More specifically, informatics is the science of organizing, managing, analyzing and putting to use the knowledge that results from this process. Informatics is data management performed in such a fashion as to make that data more widely accessible and accordingly, more beneficial within the medical community.
Given the sensitivity to the issue of privacy for medical records, this newly defined area of endeavor is not without controversy. There is a good deal of legislative activity and debate over patient’s rights versus the value of research that can be derived from unrestrained data. In this age of electronic transfer and search engines, the proper control and use of medical data is a challenging proposition. That’s what makes informatics an intriguing health care field.
Nursing informatics is a field of its own. Several universities offer degrees in nursing informatics. There are various levels, beginning with certificate courses. Undergraduate and graduated degrees in nursing informatics are now being offered, as well as nursing degrees with a specialty in informatics. These degrees are generally found in the schools of nursing established in universities throughout the country.
The same pattern applies to medical informatics. There are graduate degrees in medical informatics available, often through medical schools. They are not, however, medical degrees but more like a masters or PhD in information technology, focused totally on medical data and its uses as well as its management. There are also certificates and undergraduate degrees in the subject; a few colleges offer informatics as a continuing education opportunity.
Aside from medical schools, you will find degrees in medical informatics offered variously by university departments of biostatistics, departments of computational sciences, departments of systems management, schools of public health and schools of computer science. One Midwestern university has a school of informatics. Evidently, this recently conceived discipline has yet to find an agreed upon niche in academia.
A few U.S. universities offer medical informatics courses online. At least two of them offer a master’s degree in informatics online. There are a handful of online schools that offer at least certification courses on the subject. There appears to be a more widespread availability of nursing informatics classes available both throughout the nation’s universities and online. Clearly, however, infomatics is still in its formative stages as an academic discipline.
Despite that fact, it must be an intriguing field of study. Consider, for example, the area of medical imaging. Scans of every type are now being read at home by practicing radiologists, the images transmitted to them over the internet. Imagine the challenge of developing a system of sharing the knowledge to be garnered from a collection of similar scans, and the difficulty of protecting patient’s rights at the same time.
If significant findings about a surgical procedure or form of treatment were to be derived from this sharing of information, how would it be disseminated? The science of informatics does, to some degree, make the tradition of medical journals somewhat pass