Jonathan Shaw in Harvard Magazine:
What is biomedical informatics, why does it matter, and why now at HMS? The emerging discipline “reflects the dramatic development of large data sets in genetics, genomics, studies of proteins, the nervous system—all aspects of biomedical science and ultimately patient care,” says Gilbert Omenn, M.D. ’65, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Computational Medicine and Bioinformatics, who chaired the external committee that reviewed the proposal for the new department. But much of this information is “heterogeneous,” he explains: the data range from the molecular and genetic to the behavioral and sociological. “All of it,” Omenn says, “has to come together to paint a complete picture of the determinants of health and disease, as well as response to therapies and general care.” Biomedical informatics aims to create an information commons that will be useful to researchers, doctors, and even their patients.
Lessons from Netflix
“Medicine as a whole is a knowledge-processing business that increasingly is taking large amounts of data and then, in theory, bringing that information to the point of care so that doctor and patient have a maximally informed visit,” says Kohane. He compares this idealized patient experience, in a sense, to Netflix or Amazon’s connection to consumers: they already know “your entire prior purchase history…what other consumers with a similar history are going to buy next, and what to recommend to you.” But in medicine, he points out, patients with chronic diseases must repeat some abbreviated version of their entire medical history “again and again to every provider.”