Health Informatics Discussion Forum

Hi All

For historical reasons, our medical informatics department is part of our medical education unit.  I have raised this as an issue, because there is no logical reason for these two departments to be one.  I feel that medical informatics has as much in common with medical education, as anatomy, physiology, chemistry, etc do.

Because medical informatics is so comparatively new, I'm facing some resistance, and will need to address several issues.  The two that are currently raised are:

1.  What other universities/medical schools around the world have a separate medical/health informatics department AND a medical education department/unit?  If anyone knows of such, please let me have urls.  (If they don't also have a medical education unit, please let me know anyway - there are several staff who don't believe that medical informatics is yet mature enough to be a discipline by itself, so by showing it at other institutions will help my cause).

2.  What would be the main advantages to medical informatics of splitting?

If you have any input on either of these, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thanks very much.


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  • Hi Ken,

    I agree that HI doesn't have much to do with medical education. There is overlap with medical e-learning (especially if that includes things like decision support for 'just-in-time' learning) and simulation using virtual reality. I suspect that many people interested in medical e-learning are also interested in health informatics (I am!) which is why there is lots of cross over between the two.

    At Auckland University, where I currently work, our Health Informatics group is part of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Population Health.

    At Otago, where I worked previously, health informatics was run out of the Information Science department in the School of Business.

    Both departments have had pros and cons of the different connections that presented themselves in the different situations. In information science we had access to people with expertise about the latest information technology. In public health, we have access to leading medical researchers who use health informatics tools on a population basis.

    The new board certification in the US is going to sit under Preventative Medicine which is equivalent to public health in NZ and the UK.

    So, although there are many options for where HI could sit, I think the most likely place is probably within public health departments (giving medical specialty status under public health will accelerate this). That said, depending on the interests and background of health informaticists, it could sit in a variety of places quite comfortably (although medical education probably wouldn't be the highest up the list for me).

      • Hi Chris

        Great, thanks for these.

    • Thanks Chris for these pointers.  I notice, though, that in these cases, HI sits with someone else, as if it needs credibility (I'm not blaming or criticising you, it's just an observation that I've seen elsewhere also).  

      Surely, it's about time it takes the stature of its own department, by itself?

      • Hi Ken,

        I think it depends on how the university structure works. There are various Faculties, Schools, Sections, Departments, etc at UoA so it gets a bit complicated.

        I'd say that Health Informatics could be it's own department on a par with "Medical Education" but isn't really the same as "computer science" or "nursing" yet.

        I do think there are specific advantages of being part of "public health" as it transitions to becoming more mainstream. The Board Certification process in the US is one of these and the inter-disciplinary nature of public health also helps.

  • Ken,

    I would agree that HI should stand on its own but it is new enough that it is often treated like a step child. It makes little sense to be part of an educational program.

    In the US HI may belong to a variety of programs and be referred to as medical, health or clinical or biomedical informatics. Some would argue that a minority of what is taught is pure IT so it shouldn't be part of computer science, etc. A lot depends on the size of the school. For example, at the large University of Texas-Houston campus, the School of Biomedical Informatics falls under the Health Sciences Center. At the University of West Florida it is part of the School of Allied Health and Life Sciences which means it is positioned along side health science programs, public health, genetics, etc. The advantage of this is health informatics is a very popular topic to be taken as an elective or a separate track. Good luck.....Bob

    • Hi Bob

      Thanks for this.  I guess I just have to be a little patient (pun intended) and keep waiting for the day that it becomes mainstream. 

      In the meantime, I'm sure many on this site face a similar irony that I face: On the one hand, many of my students complain that knowing their way around a computer has nothing to do with being a doctor; on the other hand, when I tell practising doctors what I teach, they all wish that they had been taught that at medical school so that they wouldn't have to learn everything about their computer systems by trial-and-error :-).

      • I think that informatics skills should be a part of all clinical training now. Over the next few years, clinical decision making will involve pulling together lots and lots of complex data from the hospital systems, the patient's own systems, research databases and government systems. Clinicians will need to co-design and co-develop the systems they need to do their jobs. More importantly, they'll need to be able to interpret the data and apply it to individual patients. Clinicians will have an obligation to use all available information to best treat their patients and they will need a deep level of understanding of how to do this.

  • Hi Ken, Chris, Bob. You're talking about something close to my heart. I totally agree with you that health informatics should have its own department and should be positioned in the university in such a way that it takes advantage of all the disciplines it touches (health, computer science, information science, business), and that other departments should take advantage of health informatics. Sadly, the discipline is really not mature enough, nor does it readily attract research funding, nor is it well enough understood by educators and employers, to have its own university department. I suggest that we take a look at the way other professions have matured, plot our progress and do what we can to accelerate the professional growth of our discipline.

    On the eduation/informatics point ---- I've been doing some elearning research and found that there is a distint difference between health informatics and using IT to support learning. How we articulate that difference is really important. I'm not sure how to do that in such a way that our audience understands and acts appropriately.

    On Chris's point about health infomratics being integrated into every health professional's training --- totally agree that foundation skills should be incorporated in their training as something distinct from health informatics specialisation. Much in the same way that we learn about public health in our training but need to specialise with postgraduate study to become a public health practitioner. This is another thing we need to work out how to get done.

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