- Gunther Eysenbach, researcher (email@example.com)
- Unit for Cybermedicine, Department of Clinical Social Medicine, University of Heidelberg, 69115 Heidelberg, Germany
Medical informatics has expanded rapidly over the past couple of years. After decades of development of information systems designed primarily for physicians and other healthcare managers and professionals, there is an increasing interest in reaching consumers and patients directly through computers and telecommunications systems. Consumer health informatics is the branch of medical informatics that analyses consumers' needs for information; studies and implements methods of making information accessible to consumers; and models and integrates consumers' preferences into medical information systems. Consumer informatics stands at the crossroads of other disciplines, such as nursing informatics, public health, health promotion, health education, library science, and communication science, and is perhaps the most challenging and rapidly expanding field in medical informatics; it is paving the way for health care in the information age.
This non-exhaustive review focuses on topics from the field of consumer health informatics because there has been a markedly increased interest in this field (additional information is available on the BMJ's website). Medline was searched using the terms “consumer” and “informatics.” The proceedings of the American Medical Informatics Association's symposiums (1998 and 1999) and the proceedings of the ninth World Congress on Medical Informatics (Medinfo 1998) were hand searched. The AltaVista search engine was used to retrieve information from the internet, using the search string “+definition + consumer health informatics” to find unpublished reports.1–3
Health care in the information age
Medical informatics is “the field that concerns itself with the cognitive, information processing, and communication tasks of medical practice, education, and research.” 4 Until recently medical informatics focused on developing applications for health professionals: medical informaticians looked at medical practice mainly through the eyes of health professionals rather than through the eyes of patients. Ten years ago Greenes and Shortliffe wrote: “After many years of development of information systems to support the infrastructure of …