Monday, September 14, 2009

Medical vs. Nursing Informatics - Part 1

Here are a series of articles contrasting Medical informatics with Nursing informatics. I present the first part below -

Medical Informatics deals with the storage, retrieval, and optimal use of biomedical information, data, and knowledge for problem solving and decision making (as defined by Dr. Shortliffe). Nursing Informatics is defined as a specialty that integrates nursing science, computer science, and information science to manage and communicate data, information, and knowledge into nursing practice. (source: American Nurses Association)

Both definitions sound very similar. In fact, both medical and nursing informatics fields are similar in many respects:

Ø Support for improvement in quality of care and patient outcomes

Ø Availability of contextual information – right information to right person at right time

Ø Support for security and privacy of data

Ø Inter-relation to other health informatics specialties – public health informatics, bioinformatics, pharmacy informatics

Ø Inclusion of both clinical and non-clinical areas (such as medical research, nursing research)


Medical Informatics has a rich and long history. Some of the significant milestones in development of this practice include the following:

Ø Establishment of NLM and Index Medicus by John Shaw Billings (1890)

Ø Development of MEDLINE (1966)

Ø Development of Mycin, first CDSS by Dr. Shortliffe (1970)

Ø Development of MUMPS, the first programming language designed specifically to deal with medical data (1986)

In contrast, as a formal specialty practice, Nursing Informatics is fairly recent. In fact, for many years before a dedicated and concerted effort to Nursing Informatics was established, nurses relied on retrieval of information using same systems that were developed primarily for physician users. However, nurses have significant unique information needs that are not met by physician-focused information systems. Consider the number of print journals that have been developed uniquely for nurses – Nurse Leader, Journal of the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews, Journal of Radiology Nursing, Journal of Pediatric Nursing, Applied Nursing Research, etc. Large subscriber base and high usage of these journals amongst nurses suggests the uniqueness of nurses’ needs. Over the past few years, the number of nursing-focused CDSS (Clinical Decision Support Systems) such as Nursing Consult ( with support for nursing point-of-care and research needs has been steadily increasing over the years.

In part 2, I will discuss physician vs. nursing information needs. Stay tuned.

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