The 2nd IASTED African Conference on
Health Informatics
AfricaHI 2012

Science and Technology - A Platform for Sustainable Development

September 3 – 5, 2012
Gaborone, Botswana


Technical and Socio-technical Approaches to Health Informatics in Africa

Prof. Paula Kotze
CSIR, Pretoria
Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University, Port Elizabeth, South Africa


Health informatics can be viewed as a purposeful collection of interrelated components, including information and communication technologies (ICTs), which work together to achieve better healthcare. Health informatics is therefore a discipline at the intersection of information science, computing and healthcare. Health informatics tools include not only computers but also clinical guidelines, formal medical terminologies, and information and communication systems.
Systems that include ICT software generally fall into two categories: technical computer based systems and socio-technical systems.
Technical computer-based systems are systems that include hardware and software components, but not procedures and processes (e.g. televisions, mobile phones, most personal computer software). Individuals and organisations use technical systems for some purpose, but knowledge of this purpose is not part of the system. In the ICT domain health informatics are almost always defined in this context: to encompass the capturing, processing and modelling of health-related information using computing equipment. It deals with the resources, devices, and methods to optimize the acquisition, storage, retrieval and use of information in healthcare. It can be applied to support the whole spectrum of healthcare, from nursing, clinical care, dentistry, pharmacy, public health, occupational therapy, through to biomedical research, but it almost always have a ‘technology push’ perspective: “we have this wonderful piece of technology that is going to solve all your problems...”.
But to be of real value health informatics should have a broader scope, namely that of socio-technical systems. Socio-technical systems include one or more technical systems but, crucially, also include knowledge of how the system should be, or can be used to achieve some broader objective. Socio-technical systems have specified operational processes, people are inherent parts of the system, are governed by organisational policies and norms, and may be affected by environmental constraints such as cultural influences, resource poverty, and national and international laws and regulations. Beyond a mere focus on devices and technology, a socio-technical systems’ approach requires a human factors perspective. Human factors practises employ knowledge about human behaviour, abilities and limitations in the design of interactive systems consisting of people, technology/equipment and the environment in which they operate to ensure the systems’ effectiveness, efficiency, safety and satisfaction of use. Socio-technical systems can be leveraged in a constructive way to simultaneously achieve technical excellence and quality of life. It follows a ‘technology pull’ approach where a technology solution is designed that will support and fit the specific environment, the people involved, and the tasks, goals and needs of the people.
In this talk I will highlight the advantages and disadvantages of the two approaches and use examples to illustrate their applicability and adaptation to the African healthcare context.

Biography of the Keynote Speaker

Keynote Speaker Portrait

Prof Paula Kotzé is a Chief Researcher and the Research Group Leader of the Enterprise Knowledge Engineering and Management Group at the Meraka Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR); Adjunct Professor at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and Extraordinary Professor at North-West University. Before she joined the CSIR, she was Professor in the School of Computing at the University of South Africa where she was Director of the Centre for Software Engineering and Director of the School of Computing. Her background is multidisciplinary combining computer science, information systems, psychology, and education. She specialises in human factors engineering and enterprise engineering, reflected in an extensive publication record (she has published over 70 research articles in the last 7 years) and is a regular speaker at international and national conferences. She holds a PhD in Computer Science with specialization in Human-Computer Interaction from the University of York (UK), which she obtained in 1997. She is an National Research Foundation (NRF) B rated scientist. She is Vice-President At Large of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Specialist Interest Group in Computer Human Interaction (SIGCHI). She is also an Expert Member of the International Federation for Information Processing (IFIP) Technical Committee 13 on Human Computer Interaction and immediate past Chairperson of IFIP Working Group 13.1 on Human Computer Interaction Education. She is the current Vice-President of SAICSIT (The South African Institute of Computer Science and Information Technology) and has previously served for four years as President of this Institute. She is an Elected Member of the European Academy of Science and the recipient of various national and international awards (e.g. in 2007 she received an IFIP Silver Core Award from IFIP for outstanding service and development of the computing field over an extended period of time).