January 11, 2010 by David Gillaspie
Information defines who you are; how you use it refines who you are. From the breakfast you eat, to the car you drive, information guides your choices. Walk through your local supermarket. The perimeter ring holds perishable food, the aisle shelves carry canned goods. It’s not an accident. Map your shopping trip accordingly.
Your car is a result of information you use. From demanded features to technological advancement, seat warmers to high mileage engines, your ride is an extension of how much you understand. You don’t want to sit on cold leather and pay for too much gas to get around? There is a car built just for that.
Whether you can afford it is another question. An Informatician knows if you can.
Informatics is the study of information. You might think the word should be Informatology since it is a study, but you’d be wrong. When have you heard of a mathmatologist?
If you google the word informatology you’ll find a rare instance where wikipedia isn’t the first listing. Do the same with informatics and you’ll see mentions of computers and medical records and advanced degrees. It is a step beyond the concept of automation, and maybe just a step beyond everything else.
Who benefits from informatics? We all do, though not fairly. Healthcare uses informatics to make treatment and research available to a wider scope of practitioners. Medicine and research go hand in hand to expand the knowledge of disease and the paths they take, but not if it goes unnoticed. Informatics works to make sure the best minds in the field have up to date information.
You may ask, in our advanced state of medical research, how a patient goes into surgery and gets the wrong kidney removed, or the wrong foot amputated? Is that an information problem, or a directional problem, as in telling right from left? Some people, regardless the field, are just bad at directions.
Since we live in a digital era that transfers huge amounts of information in the blink of an eye, we need informatics. How else can knowledge be organized? Who’s going to do it, a statistician? You can keep recipes in a notebook, or a file box, but not if you plan on feeding an entire country. An informatician tracks supply and demand, harvest and delivery, crops and weather. They lower the risks for a billion dollar food industry and keep the stores humming.
In our new world we hear new words and wonder if they have any meaning beyond the usual tech-speak that flies over our heads. Is informatics a real word? Is there such a person as an informatician? Maybe it’s not so modern.
Henry Ford was an informatician. A history book will tell you he invented the automobile assembly line, but that’s not the whole story. He studied time management and movement to decide how long it takes to assemble car pieces, and worked it out from there. As his company grew more efficient building cars, the price of the cars dropped, until Ford was the leading car builder in the industry.
Was Henry Ford a traitor to his economic class, or a master informatician? It’s not too far a stretch to say he invented modern America after other manufacturers copied his process. From materials, to manufacturing, to finished product, Henry Ford gathered the data and used it to whip the competition.
Making the most of what you have is not asking too much, but you can’t do it if you don’t know what you’ve got to start with. Informatics, and informaticians, establishes a baseline. From there it’s easier to make projections and forecasts. Knowing what you have doesn’t eliminate guess work, but at least you don’t start from zero if things don’t work out perfectly the first time.
Informatics is not brain surgery, but it’s not computer science either. How important is it? In 2007, Bill Hersh of Oregon Health and Science University, and Jeffery Williamson of the American Medical Informatics Association published an article in the International Journal of Medical Information. The title was ‘Educating 10,000 informaticians by 2010: The AMIA 10 x 10 program.’
It’s 2010. Did they reach their number? Are they getting the results expected? Ask the nearest informatician.