As long standing participants in the development of Health Informatics standards nationally and internationally we have become increasingly aware of the many challenges being faced by those who design, develop and implement information systems in the health industry. We are witnessing the impact of major social and industrial changes resulting from a rapid expansion in the design, development and use of information technologies. When applied to the health industry, and especially when applied to the processing of clinical data, the need for understanding health data and information governance is clear.
Health data and information are primary assets of the health industry. Such assets need to be used optimally to ensure we are able to meet the health and health care needs of the population in a timely, responsive and sustainable manner. That requires the ability to appropriately collect, consistently define, accurately aggregate, link, relate to knowledge and machine process health data accurately. Health language is extensive and complex, and includes a lot of jargon, and abbreviations. Computers require consistency for accurate, comparable data and information processing, making the management of health data and information in this new and continually expanding digital environment a major challenge.
A high degree of semantic interoperability between systems in the health industry is essential. To deliver the benefits claimed from the use of information and communication technologies in healthcare, computer systems need to be able to communicate and apply the meaning of data – not just the codes. This is about issues ranging from data at the bed side through to ‘big data’, mass collaboration, data sharing, and imminent changes to our understanding and use of intellectual property. Achieving this requires the adoption of ‘disruptive technology’, as health workers need to be able to accommodate many innovations.
As health informatics/information management educators we engage in a fairly constant process of health workforce skill and knowledge gap analysis. Once gaps are identified we explore how best to meet these educational needs. This process is influenced by our vision of a sustainable national (if not global) health system and a concurrent evaluation of educational trends. During this process we have been privileged to engage with many experts around the world, and share many experiences associated with health information management; and system design, development, implementation and use. We have had many passionate debates, witnessed failures and successes and above all we have been able to share our vision.
We have also been able to keep up to date with technological advances and learned about the contributions made by many related disciplines. We continue to benefit from the ongoing learning opportunities that come our way as a result of serious voluntary engagement in the national and international health informatics standards development processes. The Health Informatics discipline is huge and complex, and its development relies heavily on multidisciplinary teamwork.
Why is it that other industries appear to be much further advanced in the use of digital technologies than the health industry? The answer may be that we simply haven't been able to optimally manage our data and information assets or the changes necessary to enhance the technology. This book is another step towards assisting you to collaboratively meet this challenge.
This text is not all inclusive or exhaustive. It builds on a previous book, Health Informatics: an overview published in 2010. This new book provides an overview of national health care systems, described using the World Health Organisation's health systems framework for those new to the health industry. It has a focus on health data and information governance but also includes detailed information about such topics as data collection, data definitions, data aggregation, data linkages, digital knowledge representation and computer processing relationships.
This publication is divided into three sections: Setting the Scene, Digital Knowledge Management and Using Health Data. With contributions from distinguished authors, this book is a valuable resource for policy and decision makers, healthcare professionals, students of health information management and health informatics, and ICT professionals wishing to work in the health industry.
We wish to acknowledge the contributions made by our very extensive network of people who share our passion.
Evelyn J.S. Hovenga