10/27/2011 04:37 pm ET | Updated Dec 26, 2011

Biomedical Informatics: The Intersection Where Biology, medicine, and computer science Meet

By Connie Lawn and Dr. Charles Sneiderman, October 26, 2011

Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, spoke at the 35th annual American Medical Informatics Association symposium in Washington on October 23. He explained how NIH research in the genetics of health and disease will soon allow an individual's electronic health records to support "personalized medicine." He suggested that this will vastly increase the power of clinical medicine, but that the complexity of this development will require computerized decision support systems.

Over the ensuing three days, more than a thousand attendees at the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) discussed the latest developments in biomedical informatics. AMIA defines biomedical informatics as "the interdisciplinary field that studies and pursues the effective uses of biomedical data, information and knowledge for scientific inquiry, problem solving, and decision making, motivated by efforts to improve human health." Some of the highlights of the meeting were discussions of the current status of adoption of electronic health records by medical offices and hospitals, consumer adoption of both mobile and home-based health devices and applications, and "Watson," a program developed by IBM to answer questions by accessing vast amounts of medical reference text.

Acknowledging the importance of biomedical informatics in current healthcare, the American Board of Medical Specialties has very recently designated Clinical Informatics as a subspecialty. Physicians certified by any one of the ABMS specialty boards can qualify for an examination to be developed by Fall 2012 with the first certificates awarded early in 2013.