A historical overview of developments in health informatics

Health informatics refers to both the practice of a speciality and a field of study, incorporating processes, theories, procedures, and concepts from computer and information sciences, health sciences (nursing and medical sciences), and also the social sciences (cognitive and organizational theory). Health informatics as a discipline can be traced back to the 1950s, initially characterized by experiments involving the application of computers to nursing and medicine, leading to the invention of the computed tomography (CT) scanner in the early seventies. The goals of health informatics are to support broadly the application of computers to improve healthcare delivery and health status. While computer science brings to health informatics the technology and software coding required for this speciality, information sciences contributes to the procedures and processes needed to develop and process data, information, and knowledge. Understanding the scope and boundaries of health informatics needs to begin with the appreciation of its roots in computers and information sciences.

The first computer came into being in the 1960s through IBM, and soon after, early efforts at automation began in the area of healthcare, and health informatics started to emerge as a new discipline. By the 1980s, the personal computer emerged and forever changed the nature of computing within the health domain. As healthcare providers increasingly became direct users of the computers, they began to discover various new uses for this technology, also contributing to tensions between centralized and decentralized models to support technology within healthcare settings.

Information science as a discipline investigates the properties and behaviour of information, the forces governing the flow of information, and the means of processing it for optimum usability and accessibility. Information science has evolved through the convergence and influence of various disciplines including library sciences, computer sciences, communication, and behavioural sciences. This includes the investigation of information representation in both natural and artificial systems, the use of codes for efficient message transmission, and the study of information processing devices and techniques, such as computers and other programming systems (Nelson and Staggers 2013).

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