Synergies and Distinctions Between Computational Disciplines in Biomedical Research: Perspective From the Clinical and Translational Science Award Programs
Clinical and translational research increasingly requires computation. Projects may involve multiple computationally oriented groups including information technology (IT) professionals, computer scientists, and biomedical informaticians. However, many biomedical researchers are not aware of the distinctions among these complementary groups, leading to confusion, delays, and suboptimal results. Although written from the perspective of Clinical and Translational Science Award (CTSA) programs within academic medical centers, this article addresses issues that extend beyond clinical and translational research. The authors describe the complementary but distinct roles of operational IT, research IT, computer science, and biomedical informatics using a clinical data warehouse as a running example. In general, IT professionals focus on technology. The authors distinguish between two types of IT groups within academic medical centers: central or administrative IT (supporting the administrative computing needs of large organizations) and research IT (supporting the computing needs of researchers). Computer scientists focus on general issues of computation such as designing faster computers or more efficient algorithms, rather than specific applications. In contrast, informaticians are concerned with data, information, and knowledge. Biomedical informaticians draw on a variety of tools, including but not limited to computers, to solve information problems in health care and biomedicine. The paper concludes with recommendations regarding administrative structures that can help to maximize the benefit of computation to biomedical research within academic health centers.