The University of Southampton

HLTH8010 Healthcare Informatics

Module Overview

This is an overview of heath care informatics. It is a non-technical module (that is, there is no programming or mathematics) that introduces students to the central concepts and debates in the field of healthcare informatics. This module will be of interest to anyone interested in the roles that information and knowledge play in the provision of health care, how to implement new information and knowledge-management processes, or who is interested in such current issues as Big Data, privacy, or ethics.

Aims and Objectives

Module Aims

Informatics is the study of systems (both human and machine) that represent, process, and communicate information. In the United Kingdom, it includes the study of methods for acquiring, storing, processing, communicating and reasoning about information, and the role of interactivity in natural and artificial systems, through the implementation, organization and use of computer hardware, software and other resources. However this definition excludes social aspects of information and its use—how is information used, why, what effects does it have and who does it affect? In the United States, the key idea behind informatics is that it applies both technological and social perspectives to the study of information, and how information systems affect both people and social systems (such as organizations or communities). For the purposes of this module, we will be concerned with the technologies and their application, but also, crucially, the social consequences of using information and communications technologies. Informatics from this perspective therefore stands at the intersection of computer science, information technology, information theory, and social theory. Experts in the field not only design systems, but also understand the relationship between technology, information, and their relationship to real-world social settings. Experts in the field design and evaluate information technology tools and processes—or design new ways of using information—to specific needs taking into account their ethical and social science aspects. One specific application of informatics is health care. Health informatics is the application of informatics to health care domains. These domains include (i) personal/individual health and well-being, (ii) health care and clinical processes, (iii) research, (iv) public health, and (v) national and global health care infrastructures. The UK Council on Health Informatics Professions defines health informatics as the knowledge, skills and tools which enable information to be collected, managed, used and shared to support the delivery of healthcare and promote health. The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines it as the interdisciplinary study of the design, development, adoption and application of IT-based innovations in healthcare services delivery, management and planning. Again, what’s missing from these definitions is the social dimension that takes into account ethics, social impacts, and social science. This module is an immersion into the field of health informatics examining key issues that provide a scaffolding of the field. These include (i) Information theory, (ii) The Electronic and Personal Health Record, (iii) Human factors, (iv) Governance, (v) Uses; (vi) Management; (vii) Data representation; and (viii) Interoperability.

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Critically debate the key methods used in health informatics, and how to select among them
  • Critically analyse health informatics governance and how it is applied
  • Demonstrate application of relevant information theory to the design and evaluation of health care information systems
  • Critically debate the important challenges currently faced by individuals seeking to improve health in the five health domains, and describe how information resources, properly deployed, can help address these challenges
  • Assess and evaluate health care information systems
  • Refer to, use, and critically evaluate key theories that underpin health care informatics


The content of this module is informed by the theoretical and empirical research outlined on pages 3 through 9 of module profile. Taken together, we can divide this work into eight broad themes, each of which we will examine and discuss over the course of the module. • Theories of information, and methods from computing and information science. o Theories and concepts of information and its relationship to methods of computing and information systems design. • The Electronic Health Record & The Personal Health Record. o Canonical health records o National and international standards o Uses and limits of health records are (and can be) used o Privacy issues o Big Data (We will also discuss how disparate data gathered on day-to-day individual behaviour (such as shopping data, travel data, online search behaviour) create a virtual health record, and the ethical and policy implications of this.) • Data and information representation. o Coding practices o Error and verification o Data quality o Data transcription o Vocabularies/Ontologies/Semantics/Semantic web • Interoperability. o National and international standards for data o Strategies for integration o Crosswalks and mapping o Transitive relationships • Governance. o Security o Protection o Legal implications o Access o Ethics o Patient voice o Anonymization • Uses. o Telecare and Telehealth o Quantitative analytics o Policy development and analysis o Decision support o Auditing o Measurement o Research o Service, management, and organizational improvement • Human factors. o Cognition and human computer interaction o Theories of behavioural change o Barriers and enablers to usage/uptake o Normalization, Structuration, Embeddedness, and Actor-Network theories o Professional identity and workplace routines • Management o Strategy o Design and analysis o Vendor relationships o Training and development Finally, upon completing this module, you should have enough competency to be either a student or affiliate member of the UK Council on Health Informatics Professions or similar organizations.

Special Features

The module will be designed as a set of linked components—each component will focus on a particular theme. This means that participants outside of the MSc programme can participate in one or more components. For example, a staff nurse might, as part of their personal development, might want to join the module when we discuss governance, and again when we look at the personal health record. Because the module will be constructed from linked components, it also lends itself to a web-based format that can be delivered anywhere.

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

The conduct of this module on health informatics is informed by the following principles: • Learning should be relevant to practitioners and their work environments • Practitioners should be given experience and learn through errors • As much as is practical, practitioners should be involved in the planning and evaluation of their instruction • Instruction should be problem-centred • Instruction must be informed by current research and theory In practice, this means that we will keep lectures to an absolute minimum, and will instead adhere to these principles through practice-based and activity-driven classroom time that both delineate and make real various theories and approaches to analysing and evaluating systems. Because of the nature of the subject, some of which is fairly technical, there will be lecturing, but only to the extent that it helps you understand the details of the subject at hand. We assume that you have an interest in informatics, but no training or experience with it, information systems or computer science. And although we will discuss some of the more important social theories, this will not be a module focused on theory. Instead, we’ll look at theory to help explain some of the issues that we face in health informatics. Case studies and case analyses will have a central place in this module, and will be used to highlight and analyse the themes we have outlined above. In addition, you are encouraged to construct your own small, informal, case studies—probably derived from your own workplace—that we can use to discuss and evaluate. The idea is that we simply don’t learn techniques and theory, but we connect what we are learning to the real world because this is at the heart of the study of informatics. There will be guest lectures for each of the themes, drawn from senior researchers in the Faculty and University, as well as from local NHS Trusts. We will also involve both service users and community members who have an interest in, or who have been affected by, health informatics practice or policy. This will give us a chance to hear from people who are working in the field, and to whom we can ask searching questions.

Completion of assessment task50
Preparation for scheduled sessions150
Wider reading or practice14
Total study time250

Resources & Reading list

Bowker, G.C., Star, S.L. (1999). Sorting Things Out: Classification and its Consequences. 

Berg, M. (1997). Formal tools and medical practices: Getting computer-based decision techniques to work, in Bowker, G.C., Star, S.L., Turner, W., Gasser, L., Social Science, Technical Systems and Cooperative Work. 

ICT in health care: Sociotechnical approaches. ,42 , pp. 297-301.

Public health in an era of personalized health records: Opportunities for innovation and new partnerships,. ,12(3) , pp. 0.

Avison, D., Shah, H (1997). The Information Systems Development Life Cycle. 

Technology as an occasion for structuring: Evidence from observations of CT scanners and the social order of radiology departments. ,31 , pp. 78-108.

Bennett, C.H. (1990). How to define complexity. In Complexity, Entropy, and the Physics of Information. In Zureck, W.H. (ed). 

‘To take care of the patients’: Qualitative analysis of Veterans Health Administration personnel experiences with a clinical informatics systems. ,5 , pp. 0.

Axel, E, in Bowker, G.C., Star, S.L., Turner, W., Gasser, L. (1997). According tools with meaning within the organization of concrete work situations, Social Science, Technical Systems and Cooperative Work. 

Institutionalization and structuration: studying the links between action and institution.. ,18 , pp. 93-118.

“Patient informatics”: Creating new partnerships in medical decision making. ,73 , pp. 408-411.

Barbási, A-L. (2003). Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What it Means for Business, Sciences, and Everyday Life. 

Information chaos in primary care: Implications for physician performance and patient safety. ,24 , pp. 745-761.

A Theory of fads, fashion, custom, and cultural change in informational cascades,. ,100 , pp. 992-1026.

Clinical prediction: Does one sometimes know too much. ,13 , pp. 267-70.

Bears, B.J. (1986). The Cognitive Revolution in Psychology. 

Berg, M. (1997). Rationalizing Medical Work: Decision-Support Techniques and Medical Practices. 

Avison, D., Fitzgerald (2006). Information Systems Development: Methodologies, Techniques and Tools. 



One page problem statement


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (3500 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal

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