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Biomedical Informatics: Changing What Physicians Need to Know and How They Learn

Stead, William W. MD; Searle, John R. PhD; Fessler, Henry E. MD; Smith, Jack W. MD, PhD; Shortliffe, Edward H. MD, PhD

Academic Medicine:
doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e3181f41e8c
Faculty Development

The explosive growth of biomedical complexity calls for a shift in the paradigm of medical decision making—from a focus on the power of an individual brain to the collective power of systems of brains. This shift alters professional roles and requires biomedical informatics and information technology (IT) infrastructure. The authors illustrate this future role of medical informatics with a vignette and summarize the evolving understanding of both beneficial and deleterious effects of informatics-rich environments on learning, clinical care, and research. The authors also provide a framework of core informatics competencies for health professionals of the future and conclude with broad steps for faculty development. They recommend that medical schools advance on four fronts to prepare their faculty to teach in a biomedical informatics-rich world: (1) create academic units in biomedical informatics; (2) adapt the IT infrastructure of academic health centers (AHCs) into testing laboratories; (3) introduce medical educators to biomedical informatics sufficiently for them to model its use; and (4) retrain AHC faculty to lead the transformation to health care based on a new systems approach enabled by biomedical informatics. The authors propose that embracing this collective and informatics-enhanced future of medicine will provide opportunities to advance education, patient care, and biomedical science.

Author Information

Dr. Stead is associate vice chancellor for Health Affairs, chief strategy and information officer, McKesson Foundation Professor of Biomedical Informatics, and professor of Medicine, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

Dr. Searle is technical director, the Center for Collaborative and Interactive Technologies, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas.

Dr. Fessler is director of Fellowship Training in Pulmonary and Critical Care and associate professor of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

Dr. Smith is dean and professor of Biomedical Informatics, UT School of Biomedical Informatics, Houston, Texas.

Dr. Shortliffe is president and chief executive officer, the American Medical Informatics Association, Bethesda, Maryland, and professor, UT School of Biomedical Informatics, Houston, Texas.

Correspondence should be addressed to Dr. Stead, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, 1161 21st Avenue South, D3300 Medical Center North, Nashville, TN 37232-2104; telephone: (615) 936-1424; fax: (615) 343-2330; e-mail:

First published online August 12, 2010

© 2011 Association of American Medical Colleges