What's Past is Prologue: A Scoping Review of Recent Public Health and Global Health Informatics Literature

Online J Public Health Inform. 2015 Jul 1;7(2):e216. doi: 10.5210/ojphi.v7i2.5931. eCollection 2015.


Objective: To categorize and describe the public health informatics (PHI) and global health informatics (GHI) literature between 2012 and 2014.

Methods: We conducted a semi-systematic review of articles published between January 2012 and September 2014 where information and communications technologies (ICT) was a primary subject of the study or a main component of the study methodology. Additional inclusion and exclusion criteria were used to filter PHI and GHI articles from the larger biomedical informatics domain. Articles were identified using MEDLINE as well as personal bibliographies from members of the American Medical Informatics Association PHI and GHI working groups.

Results: A total of 85 PHI articles and 282 GHI articles were identified. While systems in PHI continue to support surveillance activities, we identified a shift towards support for prevention, environmental health, and public health care services. Furthermore, articles from the U.S. reveal a shift towards PHI applications at state and local levels. GHI articles focused on telemedicine, mHealth and eHealth applications. The development of adequate infrastructure to support ICT remains a challenge, although we identified a small but growing set of articles that measure the impact of ICT on clinical outcomes.

Discussion: There is evidence of growth with respect to both implementation of information systems within the public health enterprise as well as a widening of scope within each informatics discipline. Yet the articles also illuminate the need for more primary research studies on what works and what does not as both searches yielded small numbers of primary, empirical articles.

Conclusion: While the body of knowledge around PHI and GHI continues to mature, additional studies of higher quality are needed to generate the robust evidence base needed to support continued investment in ICT by governmental health agencies.