What is veterinary clinical informatics, and why does it matter?

September 2, 2020
Sonnya Dennis, DVM, DABVP (Canine and Feline)

Dr. Dennis owns and practices full-time at Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital in New Hampshire. She is currently the AAVSB representative to the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties, chair of the AAHA Veterinary Informatics Committee and Diagnostic Terms Editorial Board, a peer reviewer for JAAHA, chair of the Al Hahn Award for Lifetime Achievement in Veterinary Informatics, and a member of the Outreach and Credentials Committees with ABVP. Dr. Dennis lectures nationally about topics including ethics exhaustion and informatics.

A look at this important area and how it applies to practicing veterinarians and paraprofessionals.

In veterinary practice, the term “informatics” is often misunderstood. Veterinarians and veterinary paraprofessionals are a diverse group, not only providing care for companion animals, but also working in public health, research, education, and other settings. Veterinary informatics is similarly varied and diverse.

One definition of the term that is both vague and all-encompassing comes from the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), which states that informatics is a “multidisciplinary and integrative field...and involves the computer, cognitive, and social sciences” to the “advancement of life sciences research, health professions education, public health, and patient care.”

For us at the Association for Veterinary Informatics, clinical informatics pulls together aspects of data collection, storage, retrieval, analysis, and implementation to improve patient care and safety, ultimately leading to better outcomes. Veterinary clinical informatics blends information technology, communications, social and behavioral science, and medicine to improve the quality and safety of patient care. At its most basic, taking a temperature, noting it on a cage card, coming back in 15 minutes, taking another temperature, referencing the previous temperature, and then using that information to make a treatment decision is clinical informatics.

Informatics enhances problem solving by using knowledge to aid decision making. It enables the gathering of evidence from various studies and moves it up the pyramid of evidence-based medicine, helping to improve health outcomes. Higher-level informatics includes in-depth data retrieval, modeling, and analysis to predict and respond to disease outbreaks.

More broadly, veterinary informatics provides pharmaceutical companies with better information so they can develop the drugs practitioners need rather than a need being sought for drugs that already exist. It also helps distributors keep veterinary supplies and medications in the best locations for more efficient delivery, and guides diagnostic labs in developing better tests for common problems.

Dr. Dennis owns and practices full-time at Stratham-Newfields Veterinary Hospital in New Hampshire. She is currently the AAVSB representative to the AVMA’s American Board of Veterinary Specialties, chair of the AAHA Veterinary Informatics Committee and Diagnostic Terms Editorial Board, a peer reviewer for JAAHA, chair of the Al Hahn Award for Lifetime Achievement in Veterinary Informatics, and a member of the Outreach and Credentials Committees with ABVP. Dr. Dennis lectures nationally about topics including ethics exhaustion and informatics.