Introduction and Purpose
Although many professional societies and associations have relationships with the field of informatics, the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) and the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) are particularly aligned in their organizational mission and goals. However, because of the overlapping and complementary interests of the two professional associations, members of both organizations do sometimes express some confusion about how the interests and activities of AMIA and AHIMA are related to one another. The two organizations have accordingly jointly developed this document to address potential questions about the two professional associations, their relationships with one another, and their important but distinct ties to the field of informatics.
Adapted from the French term for computer science (informatique), the English word informatics was first coined in the 1970s by individuals in the healthcare arena who needed a term to capture the emerging science of information and knowledge management and the applications of computing technology in support of clinical care and public health. For many years the field was called medical informatics, since most of the early work dealt with clinical data and information associated with the care of patients. In the English-speaking world, the word informatics was accordingly tied to biomedicine from the outset, although in recent years the unmodified noun has been generalized and adopted by others as the name of a field that focuses on information and knowledge management applied to any domain, often through the use of computers.
The first AMIA meeting in late 1977, organized by one of its predecessor organizations under the title "Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care", helped to establish the field and its clinical focus, and by the early 1980s, the term medical informatics was being widely adopted. With the growing use of informatics concepts in molecular biology and genomics during the 1990s, catalyzed by the Human Genome Project, it became clear that the discipline had implications across the full spectrum of biomedical and health topics, from molecules and cells to patients and populations. This led to the broadening of the field's name from medical informatics to biomedical informatics, often shortened to MI and BMI. Researchers and educators in BMI were typically based in health science schools (usually medical or nursing schools), had close associations with computer science departments, and focused on graduate education at the masters and doctoral level. AMIA itself was formed by the merger of three professional organizations in 1989: the American Association for Medical Systems and Informatics (AAMSI); the American College of Medical Informatics (ACMI); and the Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care (SCAMC). Thus AMIA arose as a community of people working in academic, university, and research organizations. The association evolved during a period of transition as MI initially, and BMI subsequently, became recognized fields of basic biomedical research. As the field matured, AMIA's membership grew to include many people who worked on informatics topics in applied settings, including hospitals, health systems, public health departments, government, and industry. AHIMA is an older (1928) and larger organization, with a history that began with the recognized need for a membership association for medical record professionals. The first annual meeting was held in Chicago in 1929. Since then, the organization and the professionals affiliated with it have been advocates for the effective management of clinical records, by ensuring the accuracy, standardization, confidentiality, and accessibility of health records and health information in every healthcare setting. The professional association went through several name changes as it evolved, becoming AHIMA in 1991. Today its focus is on applied health information management wherever health information resides, not just medical records, and its membership includes professionals in a variety of roles related to the management and use of health information — in hospitals, health systems, companies, public health, government entities, higher education, and research. AHIMA's members are stewards of quality health information, and they rigorously manage and protect the data that are created throughout the patient-care process, as well as secondary use, interoperability and information exchange. The organization has naturally evolved to embrace the application of health information technology in the work of its members, and AHIMA's academic members are increasingly involved in educating individuals in both health information management and in the use of informatics concepts and information technology as key elements in their work.
AMIA and AHIMA jointly embrace the following brief definition of biomedical informatics: 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. BMI is thereby viewed as the name of the foundational scientific discipline, which invites the creation of new methods and theories that form the basic science of the field. As is shown in the diagram below, basic research in BMI is associated with major areas of application and practice: (1) molecular and cellular processes: bioinformatics; (2) tissues and organ systems: imaging informatics; (3) individuals and patients: clinical informatics; and (4) populations and society: public health informatics. The latter two areas are often referred to together as health informatics. Other informatics areas are generally subsumed by one of the four application areas (e.g., nursing informatics as a subfield of clinical informatics) or lie at the intersections among two or more of them (e.g., biomolecular imaging at the intersection of bioinformatics and imaging informatics, pharmacogenomics at the intersection of bioinformatics and clinical informatics, clinical research informatics spanning all four application categories, or consumer health informatics at the intersection of clinical informatics and public health informatics).
The Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education (CAHIIM) convened a study group comprising members of both AMIA and AHIMA to examine curriculum commonalities across academic programs. Their work produced a set of curriculum components for this integrated field of study at the master's degree level. Thus, health informatics can be considered "transdisciplinary" and comprises three facets of knowledge and skills focused on information systems, informatics principles, and information technology.
AMIA and AHIMA
AMIA is the professional home for informatics professionals who are concerned with basic research in the field or any of the biomedical or health application domains, either as researchers or practitioners. AHIMA is the professional home for health information management professionals, with a focus on those elements of informatics that fall under the health informatics area of applied research and practice. Not all AHIMA members are actively involved with informatics topics, but essentially all are involved with clinical or public health data systems and the management of health information using computers. AHIMA produced a "core model" that encompasses the broad scope of health information capture and use. Anyone working with health information in any form can find their role within this core model.
Thus health informatics education incorporated into health information management academic programs and continuing education is typically focused on issues related to clinical data management and electronic health records in the healthcare environment as well as clinical information for the public health community. AMIA's primary focus is on informatics itself, often with an educational and/or research emphasis and typically using methods that generalize across domains ranging from translational bioinformatics (bioinformatics work motivated by improving human health) to patient care and public health. There are accordingly areas of overlap between AMIA and AHIMA, and some people choose to be members of both organizations, but the overlap is minor compared to the full membership of either organization.
In light of AMIA's and AHIMA's shared interests in clinical data, health records, and their optimal use and management, the two associations have frequently worked together. Areas of joint activity have included studies of topics that touch both groups, such as published reports on HIT workforce development, and public policy advocacy, where the two associations have jointly submitted comments on legislation or pending rules.
AMIA and AHIMA see their shared interests as complementary given the overall significant differences between the associations and their memberships. They accordingly work together when appropriate and coordinate in an effort to mitigate confusion that may exist about the field of informatics or how AMIA and AHIMA relate to it.
Chicago, IL and Bethesda, MD
January 16, 2012