Robertson, H, Debono, D, Nicholas, N, Hinchcliff, R & Travaglia, J 2018, 'Health informatics as a spatial science: reflecting on technological and systemic change', HIM-Interchange Online, vol. 3, no. 8, pp. 26-29.
The field of health informatics has generally been seen
as developing separately from the spatial sciences.
Geography, cartography, surveying and a variety of
applied disciplines make enormous use of spatial
technologies, concepts and methods in their work.
These technologies are increasingly pervasive and
central to our emerging 'big data' environment in
which locational data quality and accuracy are central.
Health informatics is also a field now going beyond
the traditional hospital environment, especially as
factors such as population ageing and rising chronic
disease require outreach programs of various kinds and
growing sophistication. In this scenario, we suggest
that health information technology (HIT) and the spatial
sciences are converging at a rapid rate such that health
informatics will become increasingly spatial in character
In this short piece, we explore some of the factors
leading to this convergence and suggest that it is
not quite as novel as it might at first seem. Medical
geography and medical informatics, for example,
have a deeper history than is commonly known by
many health professionals. Cartographic methods
have long been utilised in some areas of public health,
international health and epidemiology. Climate change
and the demographic transition are also leading to
much more engagement between these two fields
of practice and healthcare. Climate change because
the flow-on effects of rising temperatures, and water
levels, are hugely significant for human health, and the
demographic transition because health status is closely
correlated with both affluence and ageing. Obviously,
in our increasingly complex world, information
management is central to our capacity to cope with and
address new problems arising from these complexities.
Health information management as a skill and
knowledge base can only grow in importance as the
systemic problems we face (and contribute to) become
more tightly interwoven.