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Bambang Parmanto, Professor and Chair, Department of Health Information Management 

One of the few Health Informatics (HI) programs in the United States is at the University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences and it is transforming the future of health care. In June—in recognition of its leadership and innovation in the growing field of health data science—the HI program received a one-year $300,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH). The school’s faculty will use the award to develop an online HI training program for the state’s DOH staff. HIM Chair Bambang Parmanto says the goal is not to turn the employees into data scientists, but to improve their “data acumen” by bridging the competency of both policy makers and data analysts so they can more easily and efficiently work together on evidence-based policymaking. “New technologies are more accessible to those who aren’t technical. These employees need to be aware of data-driven decisions for policy, but they don’t need to be pure data analysts,” he explains.

Parmanto says this training addresses just one of the many national-level problems identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in their Data Modernization Initiative (DMI). The COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need to modernize the country’s informatics infrastructure: how public health data is collected, used and shared at the federal, state and local levels. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, less than 200 health care facilities nationwide could send electronic case reports with data from health records. Many were still sending faxes that modern technology had phased out years ago. This greatly reduced the speed of compiling COVID-related data, performing analysis, identifying outbreaks and escalating vital decision making. While this has been addressed since 2020, the CDC recognizes that the large-scale DMI effort cannot succeed without investing in a public health workforce adept in data science and informatics. This is where the DOH and Pitt collaboration will break down the traditional, long-standing health care professional model that has led to “silos” of expertise between data scientists and policy makers. The goal is to rebuild it with more functional communication that will directly improve lives in Pennsylvania, especially in underserved areas.

The online training will be similar to what is taught through Pitt’s Master’s in Health Informatics program, “which validates the relevance of the program’s curriculum,” explains Parmanto. Over the next year, he and the HI grant team will repackage and condense the key data acumen contents in the HI curriculum into several introductory online training modules. The online training will include competency in several areas such as data management, data governance, bias in data analytics, data analytics, communication and dissemination, and ethical decision making.  Modules between 30- to 60-minutes will be created for each topic and will consist of asynchronous presentations, case studies, reading materials, quizzes, grading and certificates of completion. 

The first part of the grant’s phase, which began July 1, is a gap analysis to evaluate the DOH staff on their current health data science skills. This assessment will determine the staff’s core competencies and where they need improvement. It will be completed using online surveys, personal interviews and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, training) analysis.

After the initial gap analysis, an instructional designer will develop prototype training modules that will be tested by “early adopters” to provide testing and feedback. As the online modules are produced, HI graduate students will be actively involved in preparing the data used in the training. Some students will include the grant work as part of their capstone project by gathering, preparing and analyzing data. Parmanto is eager for the HI students to be actively involved in such a real-world project. He added that they “will run case studies, combine datasets and visualize the data as if they were the public health interventionists.”

By the end of the project, Parmanto and his team will evaluate, test and improve the modules to ensure that their nationally recognized HI program translates into successful data acumen for DOH staff. Next summer, the online training modules will be transferred from Pitt to the DOH server infrastructure to begin the staff training and launch the future of Pennsylvania health care.



Published September 2, 2022