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7/18/2012
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Johns Hopkins Launches Center For Population Health IT

Multidisciplinary unit will develop new IT tools for public health and accountable care, partner with private firms to bring them to market.

Healthcare Social Media: Time To Get On Board
Healthcare Social Media: Time To Get On Board
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Johns Hopkins University has established a Center for Population Health IT (CPHIT) to develop new IT tools in the areas of electronic health records (EHRs), e-health, and population health management. The center will partner with private companies that will help build and commercialize these applications.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health will house CPHIT but will also draw upon the faculties of other university divisions, including medicine, informatics, computer science, business, and systems engineering.

"Healthcare informatics is too important for the informaticians," explained Jonathan Weiner, director of CPHIT and a professor in the department of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, in an interview with InformationWeek Healthcare. "We need informatics specialists and computer scientists and systems engineers; but we all need to work together, because health IT is going to be the core of the future of the healthcare system."

[ Is it time to re-engineer your clinical decision support system? See 10 Innovative Clinical Decision Support Programs. ]

The overriding goal of CPHIT, he stated, is to tie together all of the strands of health IT that are now evolving. "It's not about the technology, it's about improving the health of the population. We want to pull it all together, and not many parties are doing that now."

In Johns Hopkins' announcement, Weiner was more specific: "Today the focus is clinicians using these [IT] systems to treat the individual patient. Our Center wants to extend this focus to enable public health agencies and accountable provider or payer organizations to also harness these health IT systems to create solutions for the many population health issues facing our nation."

Weiner also wants to use CPHIT to help raise the profile of public health in healthcare. "Public health is not central to much healthcare," he said in the interview. "That's because 95% of the healthcare dollar goes to medical care. Yet public health principles and population health principles should be central to the entire healthcare system."

The first company to partner with Hopkins in CPHIT is DST Health Solutions, a distributor of Hopkins' Adjusted Clinical Group (ACG) risk adjustment software. Besides providing financial support, DST will have an executive on CPHIT's advisory board. DST and other members of CPHIT's partnership program will have access to the center's R&D, including research findings and newly developed technologies.

Johns Hopkins is no stranger to private enterprise partnerships. ACG is a successful product that has been applied to 80 million patients worldwide, according to Weiner. Hopkins recently announced its participation in a venture to create a medical imaging "mega-cloud" that could cover the whole country. Among the university's partners in that venture are VMware, Harris, and Intel.

"The role of the private sector is key" in CPHIT, Weiner said. The center is seeking additional partners, and the university plans to let them share its intellectual property in return for a share of profits from any commercial products they develop. In this, he noted, Hopkins is following in the footsteps of MIT; in fact, he said, the center is modeled after the famous MIT Media Lab.

EHRs have been criticized recently for not including the tools needed for population health management. But a number of non-EHR vendors are now offering various applications that fill parts of that gap and can be integrated with EHRs.

Asked whether the market will winnow out these ancillary and mobile health applications, Weiner said, "Everybody's got an app for that. And in most cases, it's about developing the app so someone can get rich. All power to that--it's the American way. But the healthcare system and integrating the apps for the big picture is a lot bigger than that. So the entrepreneurialism and the development-focused applications will continue to be important. But smartphones and biometric devices and consumer-based e-health will all be part of one."

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