Public Health Informatics in the Information Age
“THE NEW information and communication technologies (ICTs) are among the driving forces of globalization. They are bringing people together, and bringing decision makers unprecedented new tools for development. At the same time, however, the gap between information haves and have-nots is widening, and there is a real danger that the worlds poor will be excluded from the emerging knowledge-based global economy” (Kofi Annan – former Secretary General United Nations).
No aspect of human life has escaped the impact of the “Information Age”, and conceivably in no area of life is information more critical than in health and medicine. Improving healthcare services in Pakistan requires strengthening various elements of healthcare services and its obvious that the healthcare is an information-based and information-driven activity. Information management constitutes a major activity in the healthcare profession currently a number of forces are together focusing attention on this function.
Public Health Informatics (PHI) is the field that concerns 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 fundamentally interdisciplinary field, with a highly functional focus, but it also addresses a number of fundamental research problems as well as planning and policy issues. Healthcare institutions are beginning to make large-scale assurance to information systems and to services that will affect every aspect of their organizations function. Public health informatics is the scientific field that deals with biomedical information, data, and knowledge – their storage, retrieval, and optimal use for problem solving and decision making. It accordingly touches on all basic and applied fields in biomedical science and is closely tied to modern information and communication technologies (ICTs), especially in the areas of computing and communication. Public health informatics encompasses the theoretical and practical aspects of information processing and communication, based on knowledge and experience derived from processes in medical and healthcare.
Public health informatics has grown to be critical at this time because of improvements in information technology, new challenges to the public health system, and changes in the medical care delivery system. Todays computer systems are faster and cheaper than ever before, and prices are continuing to decrease rapidly. In fact, computer hardware is no longer the major cost it once was in information system development projects.
Meanwhile, the need for new and improved information systems for public health is growing because of new challenges related to antibiotic-resistance, emerging infection, and chemical and biological terrorism. As a result, there is growing interest in capturing information electronically from sources outside the official public health organizations, such as hospitals, laboratories, healthcare centers, and environmental agencies.
Development of effective public health information systems requires understanding of public health informatics, the systematic application of information and computer science and technology to public health practice, research and learning. Public health informatics is distinguished from other informatics specialties by its focus on prevention in populations, use of a wide range of interventions to achieve its goals, and the constraints of operating in a legislative context.
This priority area focuses on technologies that facilitate remote delivery of healthcare and assist living, moving the emphasis of care to the patient in their own home. Connected health and independent living technologies have the potential to transform healthcare and service delivery, thereby reducing burden on health systems and improving the quality of life and sovereignty of our ageing populations. This is an emerging area and there is an opportunity to position Pakistan as a proving ground for connected health solutions.