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Information systems and sources of intelligence 

Information systems and sources of intelligence
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date: 10 December 2017

The field of public health has greatly benefited from the effective application of the principles of information science and information management, and the effective implementation of information technology. Information systems are at the core of all modern public health activities in high-income countries. This chapter will review how information systems, especially those that employ electronic information technology, are applied in public health, and how those applications are changing as information technology evolves.

It discusses the emergence of the fields of biomedical informatics and health information science in the context of the changes in health care and the information revolution. Biomedical informatics focuses on health-related data, information, and knowledge and the storage, retrieval, and optimal use for problem-solving and decision-making activities. Health information science is the study of the nature of information and its processing, application, and impact within a health-care system. Individuals with skills and training in these areas can more effectively manage organizations, people, and processes, as well as information systems. Effective management of information will enable the organizational transformation necessary to stay competitive in the modern era.

Information technology advances are creating new opportunities to collect, analyse, and share information more rapidly, cheaply, and effectively. This chapter describes successful examples in which information technology has been used effectively for public health operations, including data collection (vital statistics, population surveys, disease surveillance, facility-based data collection, and data from providers and payers); data analysis and policy development (computerized statistical and epidemiologic analyses, health indicators, geographic information systems, linked databases and data warehousing); and data access and dissemination (public health and medical literature, downloadable data sets, online query systems, information sharing, and providing health data to community members).

There are many challenges for future public health information systems in high-income countries, many of which focus upon how to make existing solutions more cost-effective in an era of limited funding and high-cost technology-based solutions. Rapid developments in information technology and network communications make data collection and analysis available to a far greater number of users, including untethered or mobile individuals. At the same time, greater availability means greater need to stringently safeguard the confidentiality and privacy of data that is collected.

Information technology, management, and systems support a wide range of public health activities, and broader application of information systems will improve our ability to achieve the goals of public health.

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