NO PHASE of human life has escaped the impact of the “Information Age”, and feasibly in no area of life is information more critical than in healthcare and medicine. Improving healthcare services in any society requires strengthening various elements of healthcare services and it is understandable that the healthcare is an information-based and information-driven activity. Information signifies major actions in the healthcare profession currently a number of forces are together focusing attention on this function. Health Informatics is the field that orients itself with the cognitive, information processing, and communication tasks of medical practice, education and research, including the information science and the technology to support these tasks. It is a primarily interdisciplinary field with infinitely functional focus, but it also addresses a number of fundamental research problems as well as planning and policy issues. Healthcare institutions all over the world are beginning to make large-scale assurance to information systems and to services that will influence every aspect of their organizations function. Health informatics is the scientific field that deals with biomedical/health information, data, and knowledge – their storage, retrieval, and optimal use for problem solving and decision making. Consequently it touches on all basic and applied fields in biomedical/health sciences and is strongly attached to modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), principally in the areas of computing and communication.
ICTs have been recognized in the past decades as an important tool for the scientific, economic, and social growth of a country. In the health sector these technologies have proven to be a meaningful aspect for an effectual and comprehensive planning, management, and evaluation of healthcare. The enlarged expansion and use of these technologies in health delivery systems in the developed countries has led to an improvement of the quality of services, security as well as to cost reduction for patients and health system. In the present days, healthcare is characterized by a continuous decision-making process, that requires timely and secure access to complete, accurate, and up-to-date patient information, as well as to the accumulated wide-ranging body of medical knowledge. Health informatics has become noteworthy at this time because of improvements in information technology, new challenges to the healthcare system, and changes in the healthcare delivery system. In the case of health informatics, there are four principles, flowing directly from the scope and nature of health, that distinguish it from other subjects. These four standards describe, direct, and offer the circumstance for the types of activities and challenges that comprise this new field:
The primary focus of health informatics should be on applications of information science and technology that promote the health of populations. As a discipline, health informatics focuses on the health of the population and the community.
• Health informatics should focus on the information and technology that prevent disease and injury by changing the situation or the environment that put populations or individuals at risk.
• Health informatics applications should explore the potential for prevention at all susceptible points in the causal chains leading to disease, injury, or disability; applications should not be restricted to particular social, behavioral, or environmental contexts.
• As a discipline, health informatics should reflect the governmental context in which public health is practiced. Much of public health manage through government agencies that entail direct responsiveness to legislative, regulatory, and policy directives, careful balancing of competing priorities, and open disclosure of all activities.
The need for education in health informatics is accredited by most countries that are involved in the introduction of technology in healthcare. A number of developing countries have recently undertaken structural reform to the healthcare information and delivery system; an important component of this reform is the establishment of reliable, timely and effective information systems. Additionally, health informatics is also a key element of the practice of evidenced-based medical education, students with a web based medical education can study more resourcefully and make sound judgments regarding the clinical problems they encounter during their practical life. The curriculum adopted in the conventional medical institutes of developed and developing countries is replaced by a number of new teaching methods that improve dynamic learning but unfortunately we are still stuck to the old traditional methods of teaching based on lectures and memorization. Presently large numbers of private and public medical institutes in Pakistan are still teaching by traditional methods whereas most of the medical institutes in the developed world are training their future physicians by latest teaching tools like evidenced-based and problem-based learning. Since health information and information management is not generally documented in Pakistan and this area has not been given the due attention among the health profession thus, it is essential that health informatics be considered as a tool for better healthcare and health system management and be promoted through education and training and introduction of health informatics in the health and biomedical education is of prime importance. The following points to develop the health informatics for the federal and provincial government (Ministry of Health, Education and IT) are recommended.
1. Government should build master plans for introduction and implementation of health information technology in healthcare institutions. Plans should cover the framework defining needs of users, software development policies and standards, phases of implementation, resources requirement, governance and structure;
2. Awareness campaigns should be conducted to sensitize healthcare professionals on the importance of health informatics and their specific roles in its adaptation;
3. Financial and human resources ought to be allocated at the national and district levels to support execution of health informatics plans;
4. Should develop management information systems for both administration of the healthcare sector and for the management of the technical programmes;
5. Must develop a model of health informatics curriculum for medical colleges in the country and the course must be introduced during the early years of medical education;
6. And, should invest in human resources development in the “Information Technology” area.
“We must continuously innovate and utilize innovative methods like health informatics as a tool to help us to attain our mission to produce physicians and healthcare providers of 21st century. We should produce the health providers who have the knowledge, attitude, aptitude and clinical skills.”