Skip to main content

Biomedical expertise demand spurs new degree program


March 26, 2009

Arizona State University will offer the nation’s first comprehensive undergraduate degree program in biomedical informatics, beginning in the 2009 fall semester.

Biomedical informatics involves the integration of computer and information sciences with basic biological and medical research, clinical practice, medical imaging and public health disciplines.

The American Medical Informatics Association foresees 10,000 new jobs being created in the field by 2010. Phoenix employers, including Banner Health, United Health Care and Mayo Clinic, predict a local need for at least 200 new employees in the field within 5 years.

An undergraduate degree in biomedical informatics is also a viable choice for a pre-med program because it provides students with a solid background in life sciences as well as information technology that plays an increasing important role in medical care, said Robert Greenes, chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics. The department is in ASU’s School of Computing and Informatics, which is part of the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering.

The program is designed to educate students and pursue research in specialties considered critical to fulfilling the promise of “personalized” or “customized” medicine – in which medical care is tailored to specific health profiles of individual patients.

Expertise in the field also will be essential to efforts to establish national systems for coordinating the use of new health information technology and for compiling and managing electronic medical records.

Biomedical informatics focuses on the interplay between computer science, cognitive science, social science, mathematics, biology and clinical environments in the health professions, Greenes said.

Undergraduates can expect a hands-on, interdisciplinary course load culminating in a senior-year research project. They will work in teams to apply knowledge learned in the classroom in a real-world environment to expand their core skills and experience, he said.

ASU established a master’s degree program in the field in 2007 and a Ph.D. program in 2008. Biomedical informatics students already are benefiting from collaborations with the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Banner Health, Barrow Neurological Institute, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System and ASU’s Center for Health Information and Research.

Much of the program’s work is based in downtown Phoenix, on the Phoenix Biomedical Campus. The Department of Biomedical Informatics is housed in the Arizona Biomedical Collaborative Building 1, which contains one of the largest research spaces dedicated to biomedical informatics at any university in the country.

ASU officials said a strong biomedical informatics program is key to ensuring Arizona medical institutions can help provide more efficient, safe, and low-cost clinical care in the future.

“The overall goal is to improve health care by developing more effective processes for applying knowledge gained from biomedical and informatics research to clinical uses,” Greenes explained. “Biomedical informatics is about streamlining this system in cost-effective ways that make patient safety and quality the first priority.”

For information on courses offered through the program, see the web site http://bmi.asu.edu/courses/index.php