Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Accolades For My Informatics Colleagues

Readers of this blog know that from time to time, I post about accolades that I have received. In this posting, I would like to change the focus of the accolades to a number of my colleagues who have been recruited to direct a number of new programs, departments, and institutes that have recently been established in biomedical informatics. These happenings come during challenging times for the biomedical research enterprise generally. However, the informatics field appears to be thriving in these times of overall National Institutes of Health (NIH) support for research declining in terms of real dollars, resulting in the success rates of grant applications falling as more proposals chase fewer dollars.

The tide of new hirings started last fall, when Jason Moore, PhD, previously of Dartmouth College, was tapped to serve as Director of the new Institute for Biomedical Informatics at the University of Pennsylvania. The press release quotes the Dean of Penn's Perelman School of Medicine stating, "Because solving many of the most challenging biomedical problems today depends on our ability to integrate, analyze and interpret complex patterns in 'big data,' establishment of the institute emerged as a top priority in Penn Medicine's strategic plan. Under Jason’s leadership, I expect the institute will become a model of education, innovation and collaborative research at the interface of biomedical informatics, the basic sciences, and the clinical sciences."

Also last fall, Christopher Chute, MD, DrPH announced his departure from his long tenure at Mayo Clinic to join the Johns Hopkins University as the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Health Informatics. In addition to also becoming chief health research information officer for the university, he will also take on the creation of a new Institute for Biomedical Informatics across its health-related schools.

These announcements were followed by a spate of others after the new year. First, Atul Butte, MD, PhD of Stanford University was named to head the new Institute for Computational Health Sciences up the road at the University of California San Francisco. Dr. Butte will also serve as Executive Director of Clinical Informatics for University of California Health Sciences and Services.

About the same time, Harvard Medical School announced the transition of its Center for Biomedical Informatics (CBMI) into a full-fledged Department of Biomedical Informatics, with the initial Chair to be Isaac Kohane, MD, PhD. The news release quotes the Dean of Harvard Medical School say, "Based on the increasing impact of the field and the tremendous success of CBMI, we have concluded that biomedical informatics is a field now ready for full academic recognition as a new appointing department at HMS."

Finally, James Cimino, MD, currently Chief of the Laboratory for Informatics Development at the National Institutes of Health's Clinical Center , has been named as the inaugural Director of the new Informatics Institute in the School of Medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. The announcement quotes the Dean of the UAB School of Medicine stating, "Informatics is a relatively new, but incredibly important field, and its reach encompasses all aspects of medicine."

These accolades bode well not only for my colleagues but also the entire informatics field, demonstrating that despite uncertainties in federal and other sources of funding for research, there is a critical role for informatics to play in academic health science centers, where they can contribute to improving individual health, the healthcare system, and population health.