Getting a Center for Population Health off the Ground

July 25, 2012
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Johns Hopkins' leader talks about brand new Center for Population Health IT
Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins Medicine, which includes an integrated health system and Johns Hopkins University’ School of Medicine, is one of the most famous names in healthcare, nationwide. Thus, when something like the Johns Hopkins Center for Population Health IT (CPHIT) is created, it’s impossible to brush off as simply another provider-led endeavor. The new center is an effort by leaders at Johns Hopkins to take healthcare and clinical data and use it for a broader, societal, organizational purpose.

The key term behind CPHIT is “population health.” According to Jonathan Weiner, Ph.D, professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of CPHIT, the center will look at how EHRs, PHRs, and other eHealth applications can link data across an entire community that lead to evidence-based outcomes. It’s a notable goal, and Johns Hopkins is in a unique position to try and achieve it.

“We’re lucky [to have a strong reputation], and I think we’ve earned much of it and we take it as a responsibility. I think we wanted to do the right thing, we’re not the only institution, but we’re one of the few with this type of vision,” Dr. Weiner said. “We’re one of the few academic health centers with a managed care plan, so there’s nothing like capitation or focus budget to bring out the value of HIT.”

The CPHIT, which has had a “soft start,” will be based within the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Department of Health, Policy and Management with faculty from there, School of Medicine, Whiting School of Engineering, Carey Business School at Johns Hopkins University, and the Johns Hopkins Health System. Along with announcing CPHIT, Johns Hopkins also announced the Johns Hopkins CPHIT Industry Partners Program. The university in doing so aims to align with private companies interested in using information technology to support population health. The first such company to join was DST Health Solutions (Birmingham, Ala.), a business processes provider.

Recently Dr. Weiner spoke with Healthcare Informatics Associate Editor Gabriel Perna to discuss his plans for the center, some of the initiatives, and its simultaneously launched partnership with various vendors.

Jonathan Weiner, Ph.D

Below are excerpts from that interview.

What will the center entail – what kinds of programs, initiatives, resources will it provide?

Hopkins is a big place. There are informatics specialists, IT specialists, computer specialists – often people work in silos. The goal is to bring in public health experts, healthcare experts, medical experts, ethics experts, all of whom we have at Hopkins, and focus on big data. There have been bits and pieces of that already, academics working on that – but we’re trying to develop a new comprehensive focus. The goal being that organizations that are responsible for large numbers of people, it could be public health officers, a director of an ACO, it certainly could be an employer or an insurance company – those organizations need to look at how we use EMRs, EHRs, and of course mobile health as well as administrative systems to meet the needs of a population.

We have health informatics specialists, we have computer scientists, we have hired a new one who’ll specialize in health issues. We have hired a medical informatics person who will specialize in public health and chronic care issues. We’re blessed with an applied physics laboratory, it’s 4,000 engineers and IT specialists, and we hope to collaborate with them on devices and healthcare surveillance. We have the biggest and many say ‘the best,’ public health school in America.  We also have thousands of clinicians, who are interested in the digital aspect of healthcare.

So we have the human capital, and we’re blessed with that. The goal is to get the resources and get the data. For instance, we have something called Johns Hopkins Healthcare. It’s our medical care plan with three hundred thousand members. They get it in terms of population health. Through this, we have launched a small project, with public health experts, experts on natural language processing, and experts in managed care, and we’re trying to take the EMR data and link it with claims data, and we’re using that information to identify high-risks [pregnant] women. That’s an example; it has a clinical component, a managed care component, and a computer science component. And for that project, it’s not just about the women who come in, but it’s about those who don’t as well.

From a clinical standpoint, population health is a fairly broad term. Are there any specific populations – diabetes for example – that you have an interest in looking at extensively?

When I say population health, of course, I mean classic public health. Most public health is only 3-4 percent of the U.S. healthcare dollar, and a high percentage of that is providing a safety net to providers. It’s not public health; it’s medical care. To think about population health just as public health is limiting. We want to take public health principles and bring them to medical care. The Kaiser Permanentes of the world are doing that with EMRs, and for chronic care management, which is a huge piece of the healthcare dollar and need. Additionally, ACOs, medical homes, are taking public health and managed care to medicine. That’s our philosophy.

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