The science of informatics is now being utilized by algorithm and guideline projects to address problems with keeping recommendations updated and diffusing innovations.
David Penniman, M.D., dean of the University at Buffalo School of Informatics, is experienced in the use of informatics in assisting psychopharmacology algorithm development. He was a speaker at the initial meeting of the International Psychopharmacology Algorithm Project (IPAP) and the Chinese Psychopharmacology Algorithm Project in conjunction with the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China in Beijing in 2000. He is the consultant for the IPAP Schizophrenia Algorithm Project, endorsed by Collegium Internationale Neuro-Psychopharmacologicum (CINP). Representatives of CINP and IPAP are preparing for April talks in Geneva with Benedetto Saraceno, M.D., director of the Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence for the World Health Organization (WHO), to explore ways in which psychopharmacology algorithms and guidelines crafted by an expert international faculty might be useful in WHO's efforts to promote mental health.
Asked about the rationale for informatics' contribution to treatment algorithm issues Penniman said, "While the application of information technology to medical issues (referred to as medical informatics) has been an area of interest for many years, a more general interest in successfully merging people, information and technology in a wide variety of settings is evolving. The School of Informatics at the University at Buffalo is one of the first of such schools in the United States concerned with the more general study of informatics."
Informatics research includes the study of the diffusion of information, information acquisition and screening methods, the effective presentation of information to specific audiences, and the social effects of information and information technology.
The expertise represented in this emerging area can greatly benefit those researchers and practitioners concerned with the development and dissemination of new treatment practices in a variety of medical fields. One pressing issue involves the development and use of treatment algorithms for mental illnesses including schizophrenia and depression. While the development of such algorithms is a well-accomplished art (some might say science), the successful diffusion of such algorithms is not well-understood. Furthermore, the challenge of maintaining up-to-date algorithms is a daunting task given that much of what goes into such algorithms is buried in clinical data or, even more challenging, in tacit knowledge held in the heads of researchers and clinicians.
For instance, IPAP is at the stage in its development of algorithms for the treatment of schizophrenia where it must address the challenges of a) ensuring that the treatment algorithms under development will be accepted and embraced by health care providers for use on patients with schizophrenia and b) assuring that the algorithms are kept up to date as new knowledge is acquired.
The collaboration among experts in the treatment of such mental illnesses and experts in the areas of research known as informatics holds promise in addressing the ultimate challenge--assuring that the best of what we know is used to benefit those who need it the most.