As human health is a multi-faceted phenomenon that is the subject of study of an array of disciplines, healthcare informatics does not comprise all the knowledge and instead divides it between different areas that can cater to the needs of every separate field of study. However, despite the fact that all the disciplines are impossible to integrate into one, they stay closely related to ensure that there is complete, thorough, and efficient health care.
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Three areas of health care selected for review in this paper are nursing, clinical, and public health informatics. Apart from them, more sub-disciplines cover other fields of study and practice, for example, dental informatics applies modern technologies for the improvement of the dental practice, research, and management. Care delivery, research, and education related to mental health come under the domain of mental health informatics, which also covers technologies for the implementation of the former.
Pharmacy informatics enjoys active growth today because, with the widespread use of smartphones and mobile applications, it gains immediate access to patients’ information on their condition. All the areas of health informatics have brought the delivery and study of care to a new level, but still, they lack in usability, the speed of data transfer, coverage, and accessibility in different states.
Nursing, Clinical, and Public Health Informatics and Evaluation of Their Current State
Three areas of health care that have the greatest impact on informatics are nursing, clinical, and public health informatics. What started as a collection of observations, hypotheses, and data obtained by nurses has formed a global system of databases, networks, state-of-the-art technologies. They provide medical specialists with the necessary tools to get immediate results to their queries, to collect and analyze big data, follow the pattern of the state of health of big populations and the whole nation.
After the establishment of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology in 2004, the integration of technologies became a national goal (Marin, Massad, Gutierrez, Rodrigues, & Sigulem, 2016). Since then, the healthcare system has advanced in this task significantly, but the further it develops, the more challenges reveal themselves. Implementation of technologies is a long-term and ever-changing aim which will evolve in parallel with technological progress.
The development of informatics in healthcare occurs, consequently, from the more specific areas to the general level that unites all of them. The areas that evolved in the first place are still the most influential because the groups that come after them mostly become aggregators of the previous experience or deal with very particular data. Accordingly, nursing informatics would rank first because it is the sphere that comes in direct contact with patients, obtains immediate results, and stores the most general information about individuals in a district, town, or county.
This area serves as the backbone for all the rest, and without it, they would not have enough information to operate efficiently. It is followed by clinical informatics, as it operates on the level of individuals and populations and performs its functions for both individuals and organizations. Public health informatics comes third in my ranking because it mainly embraces all the previous levels and works with their information on the federal level.
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Nursing, Clinical, and Public Health Informatics: Current State
Dealing with much different data is a core factor for nurses to provide safe, efficient, and effective care for patients. For that reason, it branched off as a separate group in healthcare informatics and has been developing and adapting existing technologies to its needs ever since. Newbold (2016) defines nursing informatics as “a specialty that integrates nursing science with multiple information management and analytical sciences to identify, define, manage, and communicate data, information, knowledge, and wisdom in nursing practice” (p 2.).
It started with the mere input and collection of data, but keeping up with the pace of technologies and all the new possibilities of processing and exchanging information, it has transformed into the creation of information about separate patients and patient populations. Thus, by sharing knowledge and accumulating experience, nurses establish new associations, and, as a result, new knowledge.
Clinical Informatics: Current State
The main focus of clinical informatics is to collect as much data as possible with the help of tools like health information databases, images, and point-of-care-technologies in order to share it with other healthcare teams and specialists. Joshi, Thorpe, and Waldron (2017) define the aim of clinical informatics as “the transformation of healthcare by analyzing, designing, implementing, and evaluating information and communication systems that enhance individual and population health outcomes, improve patient care, and strengthen the clinician-patient relationship” (p. 319).
Public Health Informatics: Current State
Public health informatics works on a bigger scale than nursing and clinical informatics, as its main concern is health on the national level. Many features of public health are closely related to governmental functions and institutions. Nelson and Staggers (2016) state that “the public health informatics specialty uses informatics methods and tools to solve public health problems or support population and public health goals” (p. 184). The primary questions covered by public health informatics are related to the data exchange between the states’ authorities and the federal government, and also issues with standardization and ownership of data.
Nursing, Clinical, and Public Health Informatics: Future Trends
With the rapid evolution of technologies, it is expected that in the nearest future, software and hardware would be capable of processing big data, which might include information on patients’ genetics, socio-economic circumstances, nurses’ intuitive thinking, and many more. It should provide new opportunities for more comprehensive analysis, new perspectives for research, and better care. If the existing challenges of clinical informatics were solved, it would hold the potential of making early detection of certain diseases possible. Functions performed by the national, state, and local governments should be reorganized to exploit the full potential of public health informatics for the common wellbeing.
Nursing, Clinical, and Public Health Informatics: Challenges
There is still room for improvement in software products used by nurses related to the methods of transferring patients’ data to different healthcare sites. Furthermore, it is often the case that clinical records are presented as numerous menus and check-boxes, and lack coherent, detailed stories and unification. As the end goal of clinical informatics is to improve the health of individuals and, eventually, populations, it needs to overcome several technical challenges.
One of them is the lack of interoperability, which prevents the quick and easy exchange of information, though it is a crucial factor for the efficient collaboration of specialists. Another barrier that needs to be overcome is the poor usability of health software, which, as a result, does not aid in treatment, but only hinders the process. In public health informatics, local health departments often lack all the necessary IT resources and qualified specialists for successful cooperation on different levels.
Nursing informatics deals with big volumes of data, which comprises not only texts, but charts and pictures, which require separate databases for its processing, storage, quick access, and exchange. To be able to protect such information and work with it safely, nurses and doctors need separate networks with the potential of permanent growth and long-term functionality. Thus, nursing informatics has contributed to the development of many ways of keeping and organizing information and accumulated knowledge (McGonigle & Mastrian, 2017). The functions and aims of clinical and public health informatics are similar but work on different levels, and both require fast-working hardware for processing big data, safe and accessible networks and databases for storage and transfer.
Joshi, A., Thorpe, L., & Waldron, L. (2017). Population health informatics. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Marin, H., Massad, E., Gutierrez, M. A., Rodrigues, R. J., & Sigulem, D. (2016). Global health informatics: How information technology can change our lives in a globalized world. London, United Kingdom: Academic Press, 2016.
McGonigle, D., & Mastrian, K. G. (2017). Nursing informatics and the foundation of knowledge (4th ed). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Nelson, R., & Staggers., N. (2016). Health informatics: An interprofessional approach. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Newbold, S. K. (2016). A Discipline Defined. In D. McGonigle & K. G. Mastrian (Eds.), An introduction to nursing informatics: Evolution and innovation. (pp. 1-10). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press.