Health informatics as a spatial science: reflecting on technological and systemic change

Health Information Management Association of Australia Limited
Publication Type:
Journal Article
HIM-Interchange Online, 2018, 3 (8), pp. 26 - 29
Issue Date:
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The field of health informatics has generally been seen as developing separately from the spatial sciences. Geography, cartography, surveying and a variety of applied disciplines make enormous use of spatial technologies, concepts and methods in their work. These technologies are increasingly pervasive and central to our emerging ‘big data’ environment in which locational data quality and accuracy are central. Health informatics is also a field now going beyond the traditional hospital environment, especially as factors such as population ageing and rising chronic disease require outreach programs of various kinds and growing sophistication. In this scenario, we suggest that health information technology (HIT) and the spatial sciences are converging at a rapid rate such that health informatics will become increasingly spatial in character and function. In this short piece, we explore some of the factors leading to this convergence and suggest that it is not quite as novel as it might at first seem. Medical geography and medical informatics, for example, have a deeper history than is commonly known by many health professionals. Cartographic methods have long been utilised in some areas of public health, international health and epidemiology. Climate change and the demographic transition are also leading to much more engagement between these two fields of practice and healthcare. Climate change because the flow-on effects of rising temperatures, and water levels, are hugely significant for human health, and the demographic transition because health status is closely correlated with both affluence and ageing. Obviously, in our increasingly complex world, information management is central to our capacity to cope with and address new problems arising from these complexities. Health information management as a skill and knowledge base can only grow in importance as the systemic problems we face (and contribute to) become more tightly interwoven.
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