BACKGROUND: The "applied" nature distinguishes applied sciences from theoretical sciences. To emphasize this distinction, we begin with a general, meta-level overview of the scientific endeavor. We introduce the knowledge spectrum and four interconnected modalities of knowledge. In addition to the traditional differentiation between implicit and explicit knowledge we outline the concepts of general and individual knowledge. We connect general knowledge with the "frame problem," a fundamental issue of artificial intelligence, and individual knowledge with another important paradigm of artificial intelligence, case-based reasoning, a method of individual knowledge processing that aims at solving new problems based on the solutions to similar past problems. We outline the fundamental differences between Medical Informatics and theoretical sciences and propose that Medical Informatics research should advance individual knowledge processing (case-based reasoning) and that natural language processing research is an important step towards this goal that may have ethical implications for patient-centered health medicine. DISCUSSION: We focus on fundamental aspects of decision-making, which connect human expertise with individual knowledge processing. We continue with a knowledge spectrum perspective on biomedical knowledge and conclude that case-based reasoning is the paradigm that can advance towards personalized healthcare and that can enable the education of patients and providers. We center the discussion on formal methods of knowledge representation around the frame problem. We propose a context-dependent view on the notion of "meaning" and advocate the need for case-based reasoning research and natural language processing. In the context of memory based knowledge processing, pattern recognition, comparison and analogy-making, we conclude that while humans seem to naturally support the case-based reasoning paradigm (memory of past experiences of problem-solving and powerful case matching mechanisms), technical solutions are challenging.Finally, we discuss the major challenges for a technical solution: case record comprehensiveness, organization of information on similarity principles, development of pattern recognition and solving ethical issues. SUMMARY: Medical Informatics is an applied science that should be committed to advancing patient-centered medicine through individual knowledge processing. Case-based reasoning is the technical solution that enables a continuous individual knowledge processing and could be applied providing that challenges and ethical issues arising are addressed appropriately.
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