Wednesday, March 25, 2009

These are exciting times for Biomedical Informatics!

These are exciting times for the field of biomedical informatics. On the clinical side, the health care field is taking seriously the impact that information technology can have on health care quality, safety, and cost. Patients are increasingly empowered by increased access to information to maintain and improve their health. On the biomedical research side, advances in genomics and proteomics are revolutionizing approaches to health and disease. The world of biomedical research has fundamentally changed. Biological experiments now generate mass amounts of data, and researchers are required to interact with databases and other information resources. Biomedical informatics plays a key role in clinical and research areas. There is a great need both for informatics researchers to conceptualize and develop new applications and for informatics professionals to implement and disseminate them.

Biomedical informatics is the field devoted to improving human health, health care, and biomedical research through optimal use of information, usually with the aid of information technology (IT). As government, health care, and biomedical research leaders recognize its value, there are growing opportunities for careers in a diverse array of jobs, some of which are highly technical and others that focus on people and organizational issues insuring its most effective use.

President Barack Obama has made the use acceleration of health IT a key part of his “Reinvestment and Recovery Act of 2009,” stating, “To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America’s medical records are computerized … It just won’t save billions of dollars and thousands of jobs – it will save lives by reducing the deadly but preventable medical errors that pervade our health care system.” (

In biomedical research, the role in informatics in the discovery of new tests and treatments to improve health is equally acclaimed. The Web site of the National Institutes of Health, the US government agency that funds biomedical research, notes, “Modern biomedical scientists use computers and robots to separate molecules in solution, read genetic information, reveal the three-dimensional shapes of natural molecules like proteins, and take pictures of the brain in action. All of these techniques generate large amounts of data, and biology is changing fast into a science of information management. There is no way to manage these data by hand. What researchers need are computer programs and other tools to evaluate, combine, and visualize these data.” (

These statements, and the growing commitment by the government, health care institutions, and research funding agencies, show that the future is bright for the high-skill, high-paying jobs available in biomedical informatics. There is an extreme diversity of jobs available, such as:
  • Using electronic health records and other sources of data to measure and improve the quality of health care and to facilitate the conduct of biomedical research
  • Serving as the bridge between the IT and clinical professionals in health care settings to insure IT systems are easy to use and provide the most useful data to clinicians, administrators, and researchers
  • Analysis of genomic and clinical data to determine the role of genes in human health, to ascertain the risk of developing disease, and to predict the response to different treatments
  • Deploying telemedicine and telehealth systems to bring medical expertise to the point of need
  • Coordinating the information systems and data within them for state and local public health agencies
Oregon is a leader in health IT. Not only do many its major health systems have advanced health IT and biomedical informatics infrastructures, but it is also a leader in the education and training of biomedical informatics professionals. The Biomedical Informatics Education Program at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) is one of the largest in the country. Its graduate programs feature master’s and PhD degrees with the opportunity to focus on bioinformatics (informatics in bioscience and genomics) or medical informatics (informatics in health care). Its 200+ alumni have obtained jobs in a wide variety of industry, academic, and health care settings. The program’s faculty are leading researchers and thought leaders in the field.

Although students in the OHSU biomedical informatics program most commonly have backgrounds in computational/mathematical or life/health sciences, there are opportunities for virtually all types of students who are motivated to learn and contribute to working in and advancing the field. Students can pursue a tailored course of study commensurate with their interests and background while having access to cutting-edge research and/or experiences in local industry, health care settings, or biomedical research labs.

For more information, visit our Web site at:

Or contact me:
William Hersh, MD
Professor and Chair
Department of Medical Informatics & Clinical Epidemiology
Oregon Health & Science University

I look forward to your thought and comments on my postings!


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