Medical Informatics: How engineers can contribute to the development of the healthcare sector?

Dr.  Niranjana Sampathila 

Medical informatics is an important subdomain of Informatics where the blend of skills from computer science, data analytics, and healthcare are utilized to improve the quality of services in the healthcare system. The latest developments in the healthcare system are possible by adopting cutting-edge computational methods, information technology, and statistical methods.

The evolution in healthcare informatics had begun in the early 1960s. The advent of information technology has enabled the healthcare system to gather enormous healthcare data and information. At the same time, emerging technologies have introduced best practices in the healthcare system to improve medical service by using modern smart diagnostic and treatment facilities. However, the present challenge is to analyze, understand and use this voluminous medical information wisely and meaningfully. Thus, these developments in medical science and technology demand skilful professionals in the field of Medical Informatics.

Medical informatics professionals play a major role in today’s healthcare industry since the demand for them is high and is rising continuously. More than that it is a very interesting area that deals with medical data, and that involves understanding the latest technologies such as Clinical Decision Support Systems, Machine Learning, and Artificial Intelligence to fulfil healthcare needs. Furthermore, Artificial Intelligence in the healthcare market is projected to grow from USD 6.9 billion in 2021 to USD 67.4 billion by 2027; it is expected to grow at a CAGR (Compound Annual Growth Rate) of 46.1% from 2021 to 2027(source: Business wire, 2021).

Engineering Contribution and Medical Informatics:

Technological advancements have immensely contributed to the effective and efficient management of information across all sectors. Similarly, there is a lot more need and opportunities in the healthcare sector for effective management of healthcare data and information for better handling complex healthcare systems. For example, the Decision support system is used to augment clinicians in their complex decision-making process, to improve healthcare service delivery.

Medical informatics is a specialized field within the healthcare industry and has been considered an important pillar of the healthcare system or health information system for delivering satisfactory patient care services. It involves a framework of health information systems (HIS) for collecting, storing, retrieving, analyzing, and utilizing healthcare information for a variety of purposes related to health restoration, preventive & curative care, and healthcare analytics.The informatics in the medical domain needs to integrate different types of data (such as laboratory test reports, radiological test reports, etc.) generated from different systems of clinical and diagnostic care.  Among the most common purposes served by medical informatics are enabling better healthcare decisions, streamlining medical quality assurance processes, improving cost-efficiency in healthcare delivery, and increasing accuracy and efficiency in facility/practice management.

Since medical data are uncertain and complex, the gathered data need to be visualized with visualization tools and analyzed with the Artificial Intelligence/ Machine Learning models. Visualization tools are used to improve the outcome of decision-making tasks. It enhances the capabilities needed to manage and transform the existing modalities into useful healthcare facilities by applying the knowledge of data engineering and data science along with AI-based approaches.

Continuous technological advancement is essential for making the healthcare system more and more efficient. The different stages of health information system demand the latest engineering and technological skills pertaining to Feature engineering, Machine learning, Deep learning, Artificial intelligence, IoMT (Internet of Medical Things), Digital health, Cloud computing, Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual reality (VR), etc. Predictive analysis and development of decision support system are the two important areas of healthcare that makes today’s health information system more efficient. In simple terms, we understand that a health information system uses computer hardware and software to capture, store, manage and/or transmit information related to the health of individuals or the functions of health-related organizations. But the introduction of IoMT, cloud computing, and data warehouse concepts make the digital health framework a more sustainable and reliable system. However, these technological advancements are challenging due to the security, confidentiality, and privacy aspects of health information.

The adoption of new technologies in the medical system also elevates the overall effectiveness of health care services. The addition of informatics embedded with the latest technologies is expected to make HIS more sophisticated and robust, in this era of Healthcare 4.0.

Dr.  Niranjana Sampathila is the associate professor, Dept. of Biom​edical Engineering, Manipal Institute of Technology, Manipal Academy of Higher Education (MAHE) 

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