Dept. of Chemical Pathology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong and Prince of Wales Hospital, Shatin, N.T. , Hong Kong

Informatics has been defined as "the application of computer science and information science to the management and processing of data, information and knowledge" and the Information Technology (IT) comprises "the computer-based means for capturing, storing, manipulating, analysing, retrieving and displaying information" (1).

In clinical medicine, Laboratory Medicine was the first area to introduce informatics and IT and as early as in the early 1960's. At that time analytical instruments used for routine assays in Scandinavian and US hospital laboratories were for the first time linked to a computer for processing of raw data into final results, including a statistical analysis of the data. Processed data were printed for distribution to wards and outpatient departments and kept in electronic form, e.g. for cumulative reports (2). In the intervening thirty-five years a tremendous technological development has taken place and today there are many other applications of IT in Laboratory Medicine than simply to handle the output of data from analysers. Examples of such applications are:

(i) Laboratory Information Systems with subroutines for Quality control and Quality Assessment, identification of odd results, and linked to a Patient Information System;
(ii) Interpretative systems for patient data, using search routines on the Internet (e.g. Medline, www, e-mail) or audiovisual system;
(iii) Remote control of electronic and mechanical functions in an instrument by the manufacturer's service department using telephone lines and a modem;
(iv) Local maintenance, e.g. replacement of parts by local staff, using an audiovisual system between a laboratory and the manufacturer's service department;
(v) Support of staff (medical and technical) in peripheral laboratories by an audiovisual system;
(vi) Remote microscopy and running of equipment using and audiovisual system.

These means will all ensure that the quality of results and therefore the quality of care will continue to improve.

1. Telemedicine (Field J M ed). National Academy Press, Washington DC 1996
2. Wallenius G, Hjelm M. Automation and dataprocessing in a clinical laboratory - a pilot study. Proc Ass Clin Biochem 1965;III:256 - 57.

Copyright 1997 Hong Kong Medical Technology Association .
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