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July 29, 2015

Public health informatics defined

It may not be a big surprise that the top reason for visits to our website come from one simple question: What is public health informatics? Those in the public health field often ask why there are so many “standard” definitions. Why isn’t there one definition that works best?
To explore these questions, we conducted an activity at a PHII staff meeting to have everyone on the team write the definition of informatics… in their own words. 

The collection, analysis, sharing, and application of health-related information to make decisions and actions to improve health outcomes.

The field of public health informatics is based on making sense of all kinds of little data points and folding them into good, clear, useful information.

This diagram indicates that public health informatics lives in the overlap between public health and information technology.
Disciplined approach to solving information problems.
The bridge between IT and the “business”
The practice of bridging the gap between technology (information technology/ information systems) and public health for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information to improve public health outcomes.
The application of information systems and meaningful analysis of data to more fully understand and work to improve public health both on a population and individual level.
Understanding the flow of information/ data and how it impacts business.
All the things that are needed to work together to help people use information to improve health outcomes.
A field (of study) that uses human and technological resources to: collect and compile information, translate information, and use information to improve health outcomes of population.
How to understand information and use information technology to improve the work that you do in public health.
Collection, analysis, interpretation and application of public health information that help to drive decision which can improve public health.
Public health informatics is the effective use of information, processes and technology to advance health.
The use of information systems within public health.


What we learned from this activity was that each person views public health informatics a little differently depending on his/her own perspective, but together we can obtain a more holistic view. The benefit of exploring informatics beyond a standard definition is that you can build context that helps provide clarity for what it means to you.
Another outcome from this activity is that some see the importance of informatics at a broader population health level, whereas others recognize how it relates to individual health. It isn’t just a view of the systems and data, either. We see that people and processes are critical to the ability to provide relevant, useful information that improves public health.
The end result of this activity was the development of our shared definition of informatics: Public health informatics is the effective use of information and information technology to improve public health practice and outcomes.
If you would like to learn more about public health informatics, check out Informatics for Everyone, the video series that PHII's Informatics Academy made with funding from the deBeaumont Foundation. 

Sarah Gilbert, MBA

Former Director of the Informatics Academy