What is Exposure Health Informatics?

Widescreen view of Salt Lake Valley showing inversion layer
View of Salt Lake City, December 2019

There is increasingly persuasive evidence that health and wellness are the result of a complex interactive process between the cumulative effects of multiple environmental exposures (chemical, physical [air, noise, etc.], biological, social, and psychological), lifestyle and behavior, health care, and genetic susceptibility. These factors influence health throughout the life course, in positive (health) or negative (illness) ways. While we often think of environment in traditional terms (like toxic exposures, air quality, water quality), federal and global initiatives including the Healthy People 2020 agenda define environment as a holistic term encompassing all types of exposures. Pharmacologic substances, for example, are important health exposures, and the team’s expertise includes informatics methods to support information exchange between poison centers and emergency departments. Social determinants and cultural factors are also types of environmental exposures.

Exposure Health
The term Exposure Health recognizes the full scope of environmental exposures and behaviors that may impact health and wellness. Much like the genome represents a person’s entire set of genes, the exposome represents all the exposures of a person in a lifetime and how those exposures related to health. Informatics methods to understand and use the rich and vast data sets for exposure health research are beginning to emerge, but many are early in development making this a highly innovative area of science.

Biomedical Informatics
Biomedical Informatics (BMI) is the overarching field of science for how to use data, information and knowledge to improve human health and healthcare services. Because of that broad scope, informatics practice includes domain or topic specific subsets representing practice foci. The University of Utah is home to the first BMI graduate training program in the world, and to the second oldest nursing informatics graduate program. Now, the University of Utah is poised to become a leader in exposure health informatics. The CEEHI will serve as a go-to center for researchers interested in conducting sensor-based, mobile, and virtual studies that include measurements of the environment, physiology, and behavior, by providing expertise, guidance, infrastructure and other resources to the University research community and external groups.

Environmental Informatics
Environmental Informatics is the science of informatics applied to environmental influences on health. An “environmental exposure” can be anything we come into contact with — including society, culture, even our internal microbiome. We use the term Exposure Health to embrace these broad meanings of environmental exposures.

Exposure Health Informatics
Exposure Health Informatics (environmental health informatics) is the application of biomedical informatics (BMI) science and methods to provide insight into the complex interaction between environmental exposures and other factors, and their short- and long-term consequences on human health. The University of Utah has a growing body of researchers investigating environmental issues, and cross-department collaborations are increasingly needed to examine how environment and lifestyle influence health outcomes. The CEEHI occupies a unique niche in providing novel informatics methods and solutions to support exposure health research.