Biomedical informatics is an emerging discipline which is an innovation of the need. As computers made their significant mark in our daily lives, health care and other sectors, there is a need for incorporating biological principles into the world of information technology. The result is the new multidisciplinary approach of biomedical informatics.
Whereas the engineering disciplines integrate more of engineering concepts like the mechanical and technical specification of bioreactors into IT, biomedical informatics is developing new tools and using the existing ones to discover, utilize and maintain the data with respect to health and medicine.
As the newer technologies emerge, there is a need for standards set be it the regular clinical trials or in health care management. This need has set way for the introduction of the discipline.
There are mainly three processes in health care. First is confined to the labs researching and understanding the principles on which the biological system works. This field was once dominated by wet lab experiments. Now, the era has changed and with the use of tools such as functional genomics and molecular modeling, it is possible to identify the pathways. Animal experiments are limited to testing of safety and efficacy. Genomics, Proteomics, Metabolomics are the major subfields.
The second stage of health care is conducting of clinical trials. There are stricter guidelines and standards to be followed and hence the need for rigorous clinical data management systems. This led to the emergence of a subfield called as clinical data management which includes developing, maintaining, assuring quality and analyzing the databases.
The third process is the implementation of health care management principles in hospitals and pharmacies. This includes the diagnosis of disease, decision support systems, biomaging processes, patient health record maintenance and development of medical tools.
Now, it is relatively easier to identify the role of informatics in each of these processes. And there is a need of expertise that is able to handle both the biological and the information system effectively. In short, the ideal candidate should be aware of the biological principles as well as tech savvy.
As Biomedical Informaticians, you can either land up in a biotech firm or in health care sector. This depends more on the basic education. Generally, medical professionals seem to be comfortable in the health care sector.
There is whole lot of career opportunities such as
1. In research labs as scientists and research associates.
2. In Biotech firms in the Research and development of new tools and medicines.
3. Biomedical firms which support the healthcare system by developing tailored solutions like databases, decision support systems, development of bioimaging techniques, bioinformatics applications etc. The usual positions are project managers, project designers, programmers, system analysts, trainers etc.
4. Hospitals and Health systems- in management of patient data, as Nursing informaticians and Dental informaticians. These two are the major disciplines of medicine in which the informatics tools have been applied widely and chances are there for the application to be extended into more disciplines.
5. Clinical Research Organizations- in Clinical data management as Data Managers. The task usually involves maintenance and quality assurance of data using data queries.
6. Pharmaceutical companies - in analyzing the clinical trial data. Sometimes, the task is outsourced to Data Management firms. The work involves analyzing the data and generation of charts and reports to give an unbiased result on the effect of drug.
7. Health information technology vendors- where the information is processed and newer algorithms to assist the physician in deciding the treatment are designed. It also included development and maintenance of telemedicine systems.
8. Health insurance firms- Medical billing and maintaining health insurance data.
9. Academic institutions in imparting knowledge.
The field is unique in that it needs an ideal mix of knowledge from life science, medicine, and computer science. The real difficulty is most of the personnel working in these areas have found their way by random chance after being specialized in one or the other areas of sub disciplines.
The good thing is that the companies are identifying their needs more clearly and academic institutions have come up offering syllabi which can cater to the needs of the industry. Nevertheless, the future is tremendous since there is a need for IT personnel in every system of study. Integrating a little IT into biology and medicine is worth.
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