Clinical Informatics: Is It the Right Field for You?

Marlene Busko


February 07, 2019

February 14, 2019 — Editor's note: This article has been updated to correct a typo. The current practice pathway will no longer be available in 2023 and not 2013.

Clinical informatics is a relatively new but growing medical subspecialty devoted to using data to improve patient care. Medscape interviewed a few clinical informaticists to find out more about the history of this subspecialty, how to become a clinical informaticist, and tips for medical students and residents who may be considering this career path.

What Is Clinical Informatics?

"Clinical Informatics is this field that sits at the interface between data and information technology [IT] and medicine or healthcare," William Hersh, MD, professor and chair in the Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology, School of Medicine, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, explained.

For example, "these days, a lot of hospitals have something like a chief medical information officer (CMIO) who is usually...knowledgeable about informatics but also has a medical background. So they also bring that clinical perspective, and they help with implementing such things as electronic health records (EHRs) and putting the data to better use, making the systems more effective" for clinical care (as opposed to simply collecting billing or administrative data).

Physicians can come from any of 24 medical specialties (from internal medicine to surgery to radiology) he noted, and they may continue to see patients in their specialty, part of the time. "One of the things we want to emphasize is it's really not [just] about the [information] technology in and of itself," Hersh stressed. "It's really making the best use of technology."

Clinical informatics is not just "doctors using computers," echoed Michael Grasso, MD, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine and director of the Clinical Informatics Group at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "It's using information and information technology to practice medicine," by, for example, improving work flows (clinical processes) or bedside decisions, he elaborated.

Similarly, Bimal R. Desai, MD, assistant vice-president and chief health informatics officer at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, observed that "some people may think [clinical informatics is] purely a technical endeavor," for people who are "good with computers." However, "the technology piece of it is actually a very small fraction of what informaticists do"; it is clinical care that is important.


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