Clinical Research Informatics - its prospects and challenges

Among the subdomains of biomedical informatics, Clinical Research Informatics (CRI) has been evolving of late into a full-fledged discipline in itself. It is basically concerned with developing an assortment of tools and methodologies that help coalesce and give a sense of interconnectedness to the various sub disciplines of biomedical informatics. It seeks to coordinate and connect disciplines such as community practice, healthcare settings, clinical trials and basic research to gather and analyze informatics from these.

In the words of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Clinical Research Informatics is the gamut of research and clinical trials concerning human subjects in the three broad areas of:

  • Patient-oriented research
  • Epidemiologic and behavioral studies
  • Outcomes research and health services research

As can be seen from this understanding of the topic, Clinical Research Informatics is a subject that aims to bridge the gap between medical research and IT tools and infrastructure.

Reasons for the growth of CRI

The growth and development of Clinical Research Informatics as a separate and specialized area of biomedical informatics needs to be seen in relation to two major developments:

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What do Clinical Research Informatics professionals do?

Since Clinical Research Informatics is the area of coordination of information from many interconnected disciplines, Clinical Research Informatics professionals are essentially concerned about gathering material for research from these areas and exploring ways of innovating and coming out with newer solutions to existing issues and pain areas. In doing so, Clinical Research Informatics both takes from and gives back to the various disciplines it works with. CRI consists of three conceptual parts:

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Challenges before Clinical Research Informatics

CRI is fast emerging as a potential specialized field. Yet, it is still in its infancy. Although most of the nuts and bolts of the discipline are more or less defined, it is still an evolving area. What this means is that it is not yet at a stage where all the regulatory frameworks have been put in place. This makes CRI a sort of grey area. The speed at which it is evolving suggests that formalizing and finalizing these may not be too far away, but as of now, Clinical Research Informatics is still in an emergent stage.