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Health Informatics and Science

I've been reading Garrick Alder's Mind Bombs which is a collection of short articles designed to galvanise your thinking.

He reports Professor Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal until 2004, said only about 5 percent of the entire planet's scientific papers came up to scratch. In most journals, Professor Smith said, it was less than 1 percent.

I have a comparable view of most of the Health Informatics publications I have read. They fall into two categories: the bean counting variety best kept by the bedside as a soporific and the other weak and subjective.

Health Informatics faces the same challenges as fields like sociology and psychology which also depend highly on the interpretation of human behaviour. At this stage in its evolution, the success or failure of healthcare IT is largely determined by how well users apply it. Therefore, IT must become fully integrated into healthcare, not seen as something separate. This goal is not best served by the creation of another specialty, Health Informatics, in a field already overflowing with them. That just gives practitioners an excuse to continue to pass the buck: "It's not my specialty, mate".


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Medicine is full of specialties, and internationally, Health Informatics is a recognised module for clinicians with an interest to study the application of ICT to healthcare. I think this is a strength, and it would be far less likely and valuable for this to happen with courses labelled, or just covering IT.

I think that the problems arise where the profession attempts to move to exclusivity. Health Informatics is enormously strengthened by the involvement of IT professionals, enthusiastic nurses, doctors and healthcare managers, many of whom may pass back to their core profession, taking the learning and understanding with them.

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