A new department aims to revolutionize data’s impact on human health
By John Baxt
Illustration by Benedetto Cristofani
he Miller School is taking a giant leap in how it acquires, manages, and interprets health data to inspire action. The mission of its new Department of Informatics and Health Data Science is to impact how data is applied to education, research, clinical care, private ventures, and service and outreach.
“We are bringing in data scientists, biostatisticians, and computer scientists, but that’s just the start,” said Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., interim chair of the new department and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “We are also reexamining our relationship with data to make transformative changes in health care. We’re entering this space to redefine it.”
The department embraces a “rhizomatic” vision of how information can be transformative. The term is derived from rhizome, the vertical stalk that produces a plant’s entire root system. No matter where the roots grow, the rhizome harnesses their input to support a healthy plant.
Looking at data as rhizomatic allows the team to see biological, behavioral, clinical, digital, environmental, social, political, and psychological data as equally important in understanding health. They embrace a precision and personalized population health framework, one that will use data to generate insights along a continuum that begins with describing a phenomenon and ends with decentralizing and democratizing research and data.
Overall, the department wants to create a feedback loop, in which new ideas and approaches from around the University are fed into the department, refined, and fed back to the Miller School community, spreading knowledge and innovation.
“We want to develop a learning health care system that will make the Miller School the preeminent medical institution in the country, but we don’t accomplish that alone,” Dr. Seixas said. “We do it through collaboration within our campus community and with academic institutions around the world and with data and life sciences companies. Together, we build an innovation machine that can have the greatest possible impact on patient health.”