With the rapid progress of science and technology, and the increasing demands of top employers for specialists with knowledge in a range of fields, traditional degree programs are being expanded and diversified. It is with this in mind that Kaunas University of Technology (KTU) and the Lithuanian University of Health Sciences (LSMU) have announced the launch of Lithuania’s first ever Health Informatics degree program.
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Health Informatics emerged as an academic discipline in the 1950′s in the US and Europe. In the aftermath of World War II, early computer modelling techniques were used to create prosthetic limbs specially adapted to the movement of individual patients. But the field of Health Informatics has really come to prominence in the 21st century, with the emergence of government health databases and smart devices that monitor their users’ health.

Health and IT specialists needed

According to labour market experts, the demand for specialists with both health care and informatics knowledge is growing every day. Giedrius Vanagas, is a professor at LSMU and one of the founders of the new Health Informatics program. He explained that, as we now live in an era of smart technologies, the range of applications to which technologies can be applied is increasing dramatically. Alongside making payments or accessing the internet, smart devices can now be used to help people take care of their health.

To illustrate the new role technology is playing in healthcare, Professor Vanagas pointed to a number of features now available on smart devices, from reminders to take medicine,to measurements of the pulse and blood pressure, to remote consultations to risk factor assessment. “We hope that in the nearest future our patients will be able to access their health history, communicate with health promotion specialists and take part in a range of health promotion processes accessed virtually. New technologies are also creating the possibility of remote monitoring, tele-rehabilitation, teleconsultation, and other services. The creation of such electronic health systems and services demands a lot of versatility in knowledge and skills from specialists who create and operate them. They need to be skilled in the application of solutions for virtual calculations, human and computer interaction, biomedical engineering, public health, data mining, and individualised diagnosis, treatment and consultation,” Professor Vanagas said.

Considering the complexity of the knowledge required and the increasing demand for specialists with these competences, it is no wonder that top universities around the world are training specialists in this field. Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University have a combined Health Sciences and Technologies programme, whilst the University of Cambridge offers a Health Care Informatics programme.

A study course to meet future needs

Professor Petras Baršauskas, the rector of Kaunas University of Technology, emphasized the fact that the development of technologies and medicine in Lithuania have to keep pace with each other, as they do elsewhere in the world. This means it is vitally important that the new Health Informatics program is successfully introduced.

Professor Baršauskas, noting his happiness at the recent announcement, explained that the new program will mean Lithuanian students no longer need to look abroad for Health Informatics studies. “Academic majors in combined fields have traditionally made very slow progress in Lithuania. In the past we looked at foreign universities for combined study programmes, but we will no longer need to do this, as such a program will be offered in Kaunas,”

Professor Remigijus Žaliūnas, rector of LSMU, believes students who complete the course will be more employable, as health informatics will be a growing field in the future. “We are close to the times when individualised medicine will reach every person through smart devices. We are targeting people who are healthy at the moment.”

Having analysed the different skills required in Health Informatics, the Universities have structured the course to offer students two specialisations to choose from: Electronic Health Technologies and Biomedical Informatics.

Those who study Electronic Health Technologies will gain in-depth knowledge on the creation of electronic health systems and data analysis, whilst those who study Biomedical Informatics will be able to broaden their biomedical knowledge and gain skills for the development of personal mobile IT solutions for health promotion.
Demand is rising in Kaunas

To find evidence of the growing importance and success of the health informatics industry, one need look no further than Kaunas itself. Last autumn, Intermedix, one of the biggest providers of health protection technology services in the world, started operating in Kaunas. According to Lukas Jankauskas, Director of Shared Services at Intermedix, there is already demand for health informatics specialists.

“In terms of jobs at our company, a graduate of a health informatics program would definitely have an advantage over other graduates in a job interview. We provide revenue cycle management and software services to the medical sector. A specialist with both IT and medical knowledge would be of great value to us.”

Mr Jankauskas emphasized that graduates employed by Intermedix can expect a higher salary than the current average in the country.

EUR 100,000 investment

Earlier this year KTU has signed a 5-year, 100,000 EUR support agreement with Intermedix. The funds will be used to equip the creative space in the Faculty of Informatics, and to obtain unique hardware, provide assistance to student projects, support events on information technologies and establish grants for the best information technology students.

“We plan to equip almost 100 square meters of space for students and the faculty this May. It will open its doors in September. Teams of informatics, marketing and economics students will carry out creative projects and solve real problems that Intermedix face in this facility” Professor Kazanavičius said.

The creators of the new study programme also stressed that health informatics students will be able to use the materials, libraries and infrastructure of the science centres and institutes of both universities. This will enable them to get acquainted with different study systems and lecturers, and as a result the academic bar will be raised to new highs.

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