UT Southwestern informatics center fuels clinical innovation, public health research
Expanding clinical informatics training drives research partnerships across Texas
DALLAS – Aug. 01, 2022 – Leveraging its broad expertise in biomedical informatics, data sciences, and clinical sciences, UT Southwestern Medical Center is aggressively expanding its involvement in clinical informatics, which aims to harness the power of big data to improve patient care and public health.
UTSW’s Clinical Informatics Center (CIC) was established in 2019 to facilitate collaboration, mentoring, and networking opportunities to develop, implement, and evaluate clinical informatics solutions for health care providers, as well as train practitioners in the field. Led by Christoph U. Lehmann, M.D., who was recruited to UT Southwestern to guide the efforts, the CIC has grown to include seven members and about two dozen affiliated faculty, launched a monthly colloquium that provides health information technology updates, and welcomed the first students to a new Master of Science in Health Informatics program. The CIC is also is a founding member of the Texas Health Informatics Alliance.
“As a health care system, we generate data as a by-product of patient care. These data can be leveraged to develop innovations for the health care system which can be applied in the clinical setting and measured. That is what clinical informatics does,” said Dr. Lehmann, recently appointed inaugural Associate Dean of Clinical Informatics. “We are starting to go beyond just the development of machine-learning models and actively working on implementing these models using the appropriate care, ethical considerations, and human oversight. We want our clinicians to benefit from our insights and enable them to better take care of their patients,” added Dr. Lehmann, who holds the Willis C. Maddrey, M.D. Distinguished Professorship in Clinical Science.
Eric Peterson, M.D., M.P.H., Vice Provost and Senior Associate Dean for Clinical Research, said UT Southwestern has made significant strides in clinical informatics in a short time frame across the institution.
“Under Dr. Lehmann’s leadership, the Clinical Informatics Center quickly became known for innovative research in clinical informatics and related domains, the Master of Science in Health Informatics was developed and launched, and a new fellowship program started this summer,” said Dr. Peterson, a Professor of Internal Medicine who holds the Adelyn and Edmund M. Hoffman Distinguished Chair in Medical Science. “In his new role, Dr. Lehmann supports investigators to leverage the electronic health record and other data sources for research and helps propel UT Southwestern to become a national model for data democratization and innovative interventions.”
Faculty and staff of the Center collaboratively focus their efforts across a wide spectrum of efforts and research, including:
- General Clinical Informatics
- Consumer Informatics
- Knowledge Architecture
- Clinical Decision Support
- People, Organizations, and Technology Research
- Analytics and Modeling
Still, all agree there’s much more that can be accomplished in the burgeoning field.
“For many clinicians and researchers, being able to access data and modify electronic health record functionality for specific needs is a daunting task,” Dr. Lehmann said. “To lower the barrier of entry and to democratize access to data, we created an Informatics Coordinating Office that helps researchers and clinicians analyze their needs; estimate the effort; help prioritize projects for implementation; and then offer expert assistance from several teams including Bioinformatics, Clinical Informatics, Research Informatics, Data Warehouse, Information Resources, and Population and Data Sciences. Using agile development techniques, we envision a substantial increase in translational research projects and innovative changes to patient care.”
Clinical informatics will be integrated into research and educational programs at UT Southwestern’s newest school, the Peter O’Donnell Jr. School of Public Health, which plans to welcome its first students next year. Analytics and modeling techniques, for example, can be used to predict the progression of illness, complications, readmissions, and outliers in the cost of care for large-scale studies such as the longitudinal Dallas Heart Study (now known as the Dallas Hearts and Minds Study); to assess cardiovascular disease risk among diverse populations; to improve cancer screening in large health systems, especially among the underserved; and to study the impact of COVID-19 across communities.
The new school, which received unprecedented support in March with a $100 million gift from the O’Donnell Foundation, will advance public health broadly through research and by meeting the need for an expanded public health workforce. The first new school established at UT Southwestern in more than 50 years, the O’Donnell School of Public Health will leverage the research strengths and experience of UT Southwestern’s three existing schools as well as previous investments in public health research and interventions. The school will launch its Master of Public Health program in the fall of 2023, followed by doctoral degree programs the following year.
“Not only has the CIC been invited to the planning of the new School of Public Health, but we are already exploring developing courses in public health informatics,” said Dr. Lehmann. “We look forward to working with the students that the new school will attract, as they will allow us to develop new domains of research and expertise.”
Previously, the CIC helped to establish the two-year Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program at UTSW administered through the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, as well as a two-position Fellowship Program in Clinical Informatics that started in July.
“One of the important missions of the Clinical Informatics Center is the development of a skilled workforce that can aid in this effort,” Dr. Lehmann said. “We welcomed our first MSHI cohort in August 2021. Our goal was to enroll 10 students, and we exceeded that by enrolling 16 students.”
The MSHI program enhances learners’ academic experiences while providing students with the interpersonal, cognitive, analytical, and applied skills needed to thrive in the field of health informatics, a discipline at the interface of health care and technology. Taking advantage of the training opportunities on campus, learners study the best ways to create and deliver knowledge to clinicians and patients when and where needed by innovating, optimizing, and modifying care processes and providing safeguards to protect patients, systems, and providers.
The two-year Fellowship Program in Clinical Informatics in the Department of Pediatrics is open to physicians who are certified by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) or board-eligible in one of the ABMS primary specialties. Fellows will be exposed to didactic and rotational training and a variety of settings and informatics subspecialties, including pediatric, pathology, imaging, and laboratory informatics. Faculty and fellows will conduct informatics investigations across the breadth of biomedicine, including research in clinical informatics, bioinformatics, pharmacogenomics, translational informatics, personalized medicine, clinical decision support, and computational informatics. The fellowships include rotations in four sites – Parkland Hospital, William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, the Dallas Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and Children’s Medical Center Dallas – along with exposure to two electronic health record vendor systems (VistA, Epic).
About UT Southwestern Medical Center
UT Southwestern, one of the nation’s premier academic medical centers, integrates pioneering biomedical research with exceptional clinical care and education. The institution’s faculty has received six Nobel Prizes, and includes 26 members of the National Academy of Sciences, 17 members of the National Academy of Medicine, and 14 Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators. The full-time faculty of more than 2,900 is responsible for groundbreaking medical advances and is committed to translating science-driven research quickly to new clinical treatments. UT Southwestern physicians provide care in more than 80 specialties to more than 100,000 hospitalized patients, more than 360,000 emergency room cases, and oversee nearly 4 million outpatient visits a year.