OHSU

OHSU Awarded $3.5 Million Biomedical Informatics Training Grant

10/25/06   Portland, Ore.

The new funding will foster an expansion and deepening of this pioneering degree program as it marks its 10th anniversary

The U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM), an arm of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded an approximately $3.5 million five-year grant to Oregon Health & Science University for the support of its ongoing training program for predoctoral and postdoctoral students in biomedical informatics.

The award, for the 2007-2012 period, renews OHSU’s current biomedical informatics training grant. It comes as the university marks the 10th anniversary of its informatics degree program and deepens its curriculum in bioinformatics, the branch of the discipline that applies informatics to genomics and biomedical research.

Biomedical informatics - the integrative discipline that applies computational, informational, cognitive, organizational and other sciences to the acquisition, storage and use of information in the health and biomedical domain - is at the center of the push to build a digitized national health information system (NHIN). Such a system, health care experts say, will reduce medical errors, save lives and reduce health care costs – by as much as $80 billion a year, according to the RAND Corporation. Electronic health records combined with the use of informatics for the management and analysis of genomic research data promise ultimately to speed the development and delivery of more effective treatments and drugs.

OHSU has awarded more than 80 master’s degrees in biomedical informatics in the decade since the degree program began and currently has more than 200 students enrolled (on campus and in its distance learning program), probably the largest program of its kind in the world. A doctoral program was launched in the fall of 2004, and a postdoctoral fellowship has existed since 1992. Applications range from health services and medical records administration to the analysis of very large data sets supporting clinical trials and the linkage of clinical and genomic information to benefit health care.

 “In the 10 years since our degree program began, information technology systems have become an essential component of the health care system,” said William Hersh, M.D., chairman and professor of medical informatics and clinical epidemiology. Hersh is chairman of the Department of Medical Informatics and Clinical Epidemiology (DMICE), an academic and research department in the OHSU School of Medicine, which administers the biomedical informatics degree programs.

“The biomedical informatics field is on the cusp of even more rapid expansion,” said Hersh. “There is bipartisan political support for a federal push to digitize every American’s health records within 10 years. Most big health care institutions are making the conversion to electronic health records just as OHSU is doing. There’s a rapidly growing marketplace for our graduates. There are many jobs in hospitals, research settings and with vendors who build health care IT systems than there were 10 years ago. The growing bioscience sector of the economy will require employees who understand the biomedical information issues to which computer technology is applied.”

Hersh expressed hope that renewal of the training grant and expansion of the informatics program can augment academia-industry collaborations. “Oregon already has a vibrant and innovative cluster of companies that are users of health information technology, such as Kryptiq Corporation and Lifecom Inc.. Many of our students have taken advantage of learning opportunities in these organizations. We look forward to further development of this mutually beneficial relationship,” said Hersh.

The DMICE, founded in 1989, was one of the first departments of its kind in the world. It was also a pioneer in offering a distance-learning program. More than 400 students from around the world have taken online classes, leading to an OHSU graduate certificate. OHSU also is partnering with the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA), an ambitious effort known as the “10x10 Program” that aims to train 10,000 health care professionals in applied health and biomedical informatics by 2010. The 12-week course on electronic and personal health records, computer-based physician order entry systems, health information exchange, standards and terminology, and health care quality and error prevention prepares students for work with hospitals and clinics, health product vendors, manufacturers, and universities. The course also can be a launching pad for further studies in the OHSU graduate program.

Renewal of DMICE’s NLM training grant follows the NIH announcement two weeks ago of a $55 million Clinical Translational Science Award (CTSA) to OHSU in partnership with Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Health Research for an Oregon center to advance basic science discoveries in the lab into treatments and cures that directly benefit patients. Biomedical informatics is a key element of the CTSA program, and Hersh will direct OHSU’s program in biomedical informatics.

“We see the CTSA as a real opportunity for our program,” said Hersh. “It will potentially provide a wealth of new opportunities for our faculty and students to get involved in collaborative projects.”

The DMICE will be hosting its first-ever Biomedical Informatics Graduate School Open House on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2006, from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., to introduce potential students to this challenging field of study. Registration for the open house and further information about biomedical informatics can be accessed at www.ohsu.edu/dmice.
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