A brief guide to the health informatics research literature
February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment
Every year the body of research evidence in health informatics grows. To stay on top of that research, you need to know where to look for research findings, and what the best quality sources of it are. If you are new to informatics, or don’t have research training, then you may not know where or how to look. This page is for you.
There are a large number of journals that publish only informatics research. Many mainstream health journals will also have an occasional (and important) informatics paper in them. Rather than collecting a long list of all of these possible sources, I’d like to offer the following set of resources as a ‘core’ to start with.
(There are many other very good health informatics journals, and their omission here is not meant to imply they are not also worthwhile. We just have to start somewhere. If you have suggestions for this page I really would welcome them, and I will do my best to update the list).
If you require an overview of the recent health informatics literature, especially if you are new to the area, then you really do need to sit down and read through one of the major textbooks in the area. These will outline the different areas of research, and summarise the recent state of the art.
I am of course biased and want you to read the Guide to Health Informatics.
A collection of important papers covering the important topic of how we evaluate health informatics and choose which technologies are fit for purpose can be found in the book Evidence-based Health Informatics.
Another text that has a well-earned reputation is Ted Shortliffe’s Biomedical Informatics.
Health Informatics sits on the shoulders of the information and computer sciences, psychology, sociology, management science and more. A mistake many make is to think that you can get a handle on these topics just from a health informatics text. You wont. Here are a few classic texts, from these ‘mother’ disciplines;
Computer networks (5th ed). Tannenbaum and Wetherall. Pearson. 2010.
Engineering Psychology & Human Performance (4th ed.). Wickens et al. Psychology Press. 2012.
Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach (3rd ed). Russell and Norvig. Pearson. 2013
Google Scholar: A major barrier to accessing the research literature is that much of it is trapped behind paywalls. Unless you work at a university and can access journals via the library, you will be asked by some publishers to pay an exorbitant fee to read even individual papers. Many journals are now however open-access, or make some of their papers available free on publication. Most journals also allow authors to freely place an early copy of a paper onto a university or other repository.
The most powerful way to finding these research articles is Google Scholar. Scholar does a great job of finding all the publicly available copies of a paper, even if the journal’s version is still behind a paywall. Getting yourself comfortable with using Scholar, and exploring what it does, provides you with a major tool for accessing the research literature.
Yearbook of Medical Informatics. The International Medical Informatics Association (IMIA) is the peak global academic body for health informatics and each year produces a summary of the ‘best’ of the last year’s research from the journals in the form of the Yearbook of Medical Informatics. The recent editions of the yearbook are all freely available online.
Next, I’d suggest the following ‘core’ journals for you to skim on a regular basis. Once you are familiar with these you will no doubt move on the the very many others that publish important informatics research.
JAMIA. The Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) is the peak general informatics journal, and a great place to keep tabs on recent trends. While it requires a subscription, all articles are placed into open access 12 months after publication (so you can find them using Scholar) and several articles every month are free. You can keep abreast of papers as they are published through the advanced access page.
JMIR. The Journal of Medical Internet Research is a high impact specialist journal focusing on Web-based informatics interventions. It is open access which means that all articles are free.
To round out the journals you might want to add into your regular research scan the following journals which are all very well regarded.
- Journal of Biomedical Informatics, which focuses more on methods than the other journals.
- International Journal of Medical Informatics, which tries to cover informatics issues with a global perspective.
- Artificial Intelligence in Medicine, which as the name suggest is focussed on advance topics in decision support and analytics.
- BMC Medical Informatics and Decision Making, which is an open access member of the BMC family of journals
- Methods of Information in Medicine, specialises in informatics methodologies.
Whilst journals typically will publish well polished work, there is often a lag of a year or more before submitted papers are published. The advantage of research conferences is that you get more recent work, sometimes at an earlier stages of development, but also closer to the cutting edge.
There are a plethora of informatics conferences internationally but the following publish their papers freely online, and are typically of high quality.
AMIA Annual Symposium. AMIA holds what is probably the most prestigious annual health informatics conference, and releases all papers via NLM. An associated AMIA Summit on Translational Sciences/Bioinformatics is also freely available.
Medinfo. IMIA holds a biannual international conference, and given its status as the peak global academic society, Medinfo papers have a truly international flavour. Papers are open access and made available by IOS press through its Studies in Health Technology and Informatics series (where many other free proceedings can be found). Recent Medinfo proceedings include 2015 and 2013.
As with textbooks and journals, it is worth remembering that much of importance to health informatics is published in other ‘mother’ disciplines. For example it is well worth keeping abreast of the following conferences for recent progress:
The ACM Digital Library, which contains WWW, is a cornucopia of information and computer science conference proceedings. Many a rainy weekend can be wasted browsing here. You may need to hunt the web site of the actual conference however to get free access to papers as ACM will often try to charge for papers you can find freely on the home page of the conference.
Browsing journals is one way to keep up to date. The other is to follow the work of individual researchers whose interests mirror your own. The easiest way to do this is to find their personal page on Google Scholar (and if they don’t have one tell them to make one!). Here is mine, as an example. There are two basic ways to attack a scholar page. When you first see a Scholar page, the papers are ranked by their impact (as measured by other people citing the papers). This will give you a feeling about the work the researcher is most noted for. The second way is to click the year button. You will then see papers in date order, starting with the most recent. This is a terrific way of seeing what your pet researcher has been up to lately.
There is a regularly updated list of biomedical informatics researchers, ranked by citation impact, and this is a great way to discover health informatics scientists. Remember that when researchers work in more specialised fields, they may not have as many citations and so be lower down the list.
Once you find a few favourite researchers, try to see what they have done recently, follow them on Twitter, and if they have a blog, try to read it.