Population Health IT promises boom

Rather than the "one doctor, one patient" approach to healthcare, public health officials are using data analytics to improve the healthcare of large populations.

How reams of geographic health data can remake medicine

BALTIMORE  -  Imagine a clinical database containing medical histories, diseases and demographic data taken from millions of patients across the U.S. Imagine data analytics that could help eliminate healthcare disparities and socioeconomic inequalities, could help pinpoint certain diseases in particular populations, reduce morbidity numbers, and rather than improve healthcare for a single patient, could potentially improve the healthcare of millions across a geographic area. 

Enter the up-and-coming healthcare star: population health.  

Numerous organizations and education institutions are trading the traditional "one patient, one doctor" approach for the "entire population approach." 

The most recent newcomer to this burgeoning field is the Johns Hopkins Center for Population Health IT (CPHIT), which was started in July of this year. 

Officials at the center cite population health as an often more effective way of treating patients and geographic groups.  

"Those of us in public health believe that the true way to add value in medical care is to think about the wellbeing of the entire population," says Jonathan Weiner, professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of CPHIT. And part of adding that value, he added, requires utilizing e-health. 

 "We are currently witnessing the most expansive digitalization of healthcare in history," says Weiner. "Over the coming decade, electronic health records, personal health records and other e-health applications will completely transform healthcare in the U.S. and around the world. Today the focus is clinicians using these systems to treat the individual patient. Our Center wants to extend this focus to enable public health agencies and accountable provider or payer organizations to also harness these health IT systems to create solutions for the many population health issues facing our nation."   

Although in its early beginnings, CPHIT officials anticipate the center will lead the way in population health IT come near future. 

Currently, CPHIT does not have independent projects established but is working in collaboration with colleagues across Johns Hopkins. 

Weiner says the center is working in conjunction with scientists at the Center for Language and Speech Processing at Johns Hopkins, on a project focused on outreach for high-risk moms for the university's Medicaid health plan. Because many of the nurses go through the terms manually, or many doctors currently use free text, the Natural Language Processing (NLP) scientists are developing algorithms to do this more efficiently.