Healthcare informatics, largely in the form of electronic medical records and e-prescriptions, promises to help doc- tors and hospitals make fewer mistakes and limit the cost of patient care. It also
promises to help patients maintain their health and prevent
medical procedures and prescriptions when none is truly
Better outcomes have always followed better data, only
now the data is systematically being captured, validated,
mined, analyzed, integrated, and ultimately modeled in
databases of patient records and lab and radiology test
results. Much of it can be derived from a single drop of
blood (a window into our genomic legacy and real-time
chemistry) to distinguish health from disease. Access could
transform the entire healthcare enterprise from reactive
(treatment when someone gets sick) to proactive (
supporting lifelong health management).
A complication is that economic incentives still
reward doctors and hospitals for doing more procedures and tests and writing more prescriptions. As long
as billable revenue is based on more of everything, the
result could be more care but not always better care.
However, even if electronic medical records could
reduce operating costs in the long run, the initial investment in healthcare IT is still significant and sometimes
prohibitive for individual doctors and hospitals.
Health and biomedical informatics ranges from the per-
sonal to the global, says Aaron Weiss in his cover story, com-
bining electronic medical records for individual patients
with public-health data on epidemiological research,
whether cutting-edge computer models like the Intelligent
Histories project ( http://www.intelligenthistories.org/) or
projections of the spread of viruses like H1N1 (http://www.
– Andrew Rosenbloom