Thomas Jefferson's Drew Harris: Data management must be part of med school

Doctor examining patient

As the healthcare industry transitions to a value-based model, a new data discipline will be required, says Drew Harris, director of health policy and population health at Thomas Jefferson University’s College of Population Health in Philadelphia.

Harris calls it population health intelligence; it’s all about making health data useful, he says in a Wall Street Journal blog post.

This emerging field will require skills "beyond IT infrastructure, database design and statistics" to understand how to incorporate information from myriad sources, such as EHRs, behavioral, environmental and social data, he says.

In the Thomas Jefferson graduate program in population health, Harris says he sees students grappling with how to use data to answer the questions they pose. The issue is how to turn data into insights and action.

To that end, he says, data management and analysis must be integral to the curricula for medical, nursing and other health professional schools, including how to incorporate information from geographic information systems, as well as community and sociological data into everyday practice.

Advanced programs also will be required, he says, ideally targeted toward mid-career health professionals who will quickly understand the potential for applying data to improve care.

Medical schools already are incorporating data management classes as they revise their curricula. The University of California, San Francisco’s new medical school curriculum includes integrating technology and informatics into clinical practice. And at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, med students will take classes together with engineering, social work, nursing and pharmacy students.