An avalanche of data is changing both medical research and  the practice of medicine. Wearable technology, genetic testing, predictive analytics—today’s physicians have a lot of big data on their hands. In response, the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have teamed up to offer a new informatics research rotation to help new doctors gain those important data skills.

Philip Hagedorn, MD, an assistant professor in the Hospital Medicine division at Cincinnati Children’s, led development of the program. The new rotation option, offered through the UC College of Medicine’s Biomedical Informatics Graduate Program, offers residents—medical school graduates continuing their education in a hospital setting—an opportunity to take a lead role in informatics-focused research projects and learn data skills beyond a traditional hospital setting.

Hagedorn wants residents to know about the vast possibilities of informatics projects. “Residents’ areas of interest often tie in with work being done in clinical and biomedical informatics—if only they know where to look,” he says. His mission is to help connect them with opportunities. 

“They will be able to deliver more effective patient outcomes by working with information systems—not against them.”

Three residents recently completed the first rotation and gained a broad range of experience working with data issues.

First Rotation 

Jesse Hansen, Matthew Newcomb, and Pieter-Jan “PJ” Van Camp are the first residents to complete the clinical rotation elective.

Jesse Hansen, Matthew Newcomb, and Pieter-Jan “PJ” Van Camp (from left)

“It was a chance to mesh two of my intellectual pursuits: complex science and information technology,” says Newcomb. “Exploring the methodology and resources for studying complex systems and large amounts of data is not something that I am exposed to as a Med-Peds resident, but something I remain very curious about.”

The elective rotation gave the residents a stronger foundation in data literacy, a skillset they’ll need as future physicians. With background knowledge and experience in informatics, they will be able to deliver more effective patient outcomes by working with information systems—not against them.

“This elective introduced me to colleagues that are interested in and capable of changing the way that clinical information systems work.”

“It’s very common in the clinical world to hear doctors complain that the computers never work the way they want them to, and that electronic charting just gets in the way of providing care to patients,” says Hansen. “This elective introduced me to colleagues that are interested in and capable of changing the way that clinical information systems work.”

Learning doesn’t just come through reading. Residents get hands-on with operational meetings, research activities, and an informatics-related project of their own design.

As an initial project, the residents worked together to reduce communication errors between physicians and nurses in general pediatric wards. By tracking text and numeric paging patterns, they were able to identify the frequency of missed communications between the teams. These patterns were used to develop a new workflow that cut the missed communications in half over a 30-day period.

Other projects include:

  • Developing a new way for electronic health record users to report erroneous medication alerts
  • Creating an algorithm that can detect errors in weight entry for children’s growth charts
  • Evaluating pediatric weight data to prevent medication dosing errors.
Future Plans

Now, the three residents are moving on to apply the informatics strategies they’ve learned. Hansen is starting a pediatric cardiology fellowship and wants to continue improving clinical information systems. Newcomb is seeking work as a Med-Peds hospitalist and wants to find a role for biomedical informatics in his career.

Van Camp, a PhD student in the Biomedical Informatics graduate program at UC, says it’s difficult to gauge where he’ll be in five or 10 years—but that’s one of the most fascinating aspects of biomedical informatics. “It’s all about accepting the potential of these new developments and finding a way to build the healthcare of the future,” he says. “This field is so young, and the possibilities seem endless.”

Changes are ahead for the program as well. Rotation creator Philip Hagedorn is developing a curated list of projects to give residents an idea of what they could explore during a biomedical informatics rotation. Scanning the list could spark an interest they never knew they had.

Hagedorn also has plans to expand the rotations in the coming year. While the first rotation lasted two weeks, he intends to lengthen the experience to a full month. He’d also like to divide the rotation into two separate tracks—one focused on novices covering the basics of informatics and one focused on seasoned learners exploring in-depth topics and projects—to better serve the diverse needs of the residents.

Cincinnati Medical Residents Mix Medicine with IT in Clinical Informatics Rotation