Director’s Update – September 2014

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.

Below, Karl Kieburtz discusses the CTSI’s growing biomedical informatics team and how it can support university researchers.

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

Karl Kieburtz, director of the CTSI

On the growing need for biomedical informatics:

One thing we focus on in the CTSI is population health, meaning the overall health of a city, a county, a region, and so on. And we want to know, when we do something — when we educate people, when we develop new programs, when we open Strong West — does it make any difference? Does the population do any better?

Nana Bennett talked a little bit about this last month, but right now, there are a lot of agencies that collect health information on the population, and could potentially answer that question. We do it, the other health agencies in town do it, Rochester RHIO (Regional Health Information Organization) does it, the Finger Lakes Health Systems Agency does it. We all have databases. But it’s almost like they’re different bank accounts: The information is structured in different ways and lives in different places, and the data collected is everything from how much people are using hospitals, to vaccination rates, to transmission of infectious diseases, to obesity rates.

So we have a lot of different numbers, a lot of data, but we don’t always have a ton of usable information from that data. The only way to truly understand it is to establish some common rules around it, so people are comfortable with others going into the databases and pulling data out.

This takes a tremendous amount of effort. The business section of the New York Times recently had a piece on big data, and it talked about how 50 to 80 percent of the time spent with big data is just spent getting the data together — reconciling different data sets. And when I read that I said, “Of course! That’s what we’re doing here!”

On how we’re doing it:

Bioinformatics isn’t one of our pillars — it’s actually part of the foundation of the CTSI, and we think it’s important enough that we’re creating a faculty position in the CTSI around it. We’ve hired Dongmei Li, who will join us shortly, and she will be the first faculty member who is actually based in the CTSI.

Dr. Li will join Tim Dye, who got here in January; Jack Chang, who got here in June; Meg Demment who started in August; as well as Kathleen Holt, who is joining shortly; and Adam Tatro, who has been our EMR (Electronic Medical Record) expert for a while. Carrie Irvine and Amanda Davin in Academic IT are also part of the team.

So we’re going to be a robust resource for people who are looking to sort through nearly any kind of big data. Whether it’s small, in-house research projects that use the EMR, or a project that looks at patient information across populations and across datasets, or something as big as national utilization data of Medicare — we can help with all of that. And that’s what we want people to know.

Previous director’s updates:

August 2014 – Nana Bennett talks about the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

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