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Health Informatics: The Marriage of Healthcare, IT, Big Data, and Analytics

Last year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first mobile health app to allow remote monitoring of patient glucose data.1 Dexcom, the company behind the app, developed a small wearable device that allows continuous glucose monitoring. This makes life much easier for parents and caregivers of diabetic children as they can now quickly analyze and understand past and present glucose levels.

Such developments showcase one of the fastest growing areas of health care – informatics. Health informatics is the union of health care and information technology. Incorporating elements of big data, analytics, and now, mobile technology, this field provides health-care professionals and patients with a plethora of data to increase the quality of care.2

The underlying goal of health informatics is to make informed, data-driven health-care decisions tailored to individuals while raising the general level of health. This has motivated app developers eager to supply the medical field with apps to assist doctors, nurses, caregivers, administrators, patients, and family members.3

Figure 1, for example, is an app that allows health-care professionals to share medical cases with each other. Its goal is to facilitate the learning, sharing, and knowledge of medical cases.4 If one doctor is unable to diagnose a patient, by sharing the case others can chime in based on their experience.

Millennial impetus

The rise of informatics owes much to the growing number of millennials being treated. Baby boomers may still account for the bulk of care, but there is no ignoring the growing influence of millennials on how health care is delivered. Those within this group are accustomed to researching nearly everything online, and their influence is increasing the creation of more mobile health apps.

The rise in the number of consumers searching online for health information changes the nature of their relationships with healthcare providers. In a Makovsky/Kelton Pulse of Online Health survey, for instance, 61% of patients reported they were likely to ask for a specific prescription medication by name.5 Consumerism, with an emphasis on increasing patient engagement is embraced by the field of consumer health informatics. Its purpose is to enable patients to manage their own health by providing relevant information pertaining to their activity levels, food consumption, sleep patterns, heart rate, in an easy to understand mobile health interface.

The obvious manifestation of this is the ubiquitous fitness band. By recording how long, far, and fast a person runs while showing results of calories burned and comparisons to past distances and times, the mobile health app helps moves what feels like a necessary chore to a fun activity.

Such examples have an obvious commercial element, BCC Research forecasts that global revenue for mobile health self-monitoring technologies will soar to $18.8 billion by 2019.  Nevertheless, these apps are helping mobile health informatics gain a higher profile.

While consumer apps attract much of the attention, those used inside hospitals and in the management of outpatient care are destined to revolutionize the health-care field as a whole. However, the field is advancing far ahead of the availability of graduates to fill available positions.

Those achieving a firm grounding in IT and health care as part of a degree in informatics are going to be in high demand for years to come. The University of Scranton offers a Master of Science in Health Informatics to train graduates in data analytics, mobile health, population health, mobile health apps, and more. For more information, visit the program’s website.


  2. By Ken Ong, MD, Physician Informatics Community
  3. Open Clinical