I2 Faculty Recognized as Leaders in Informatics

Several faculty members have been awarded for their practical, real-world contributions to the world of informatics.

From left: Philip R.O. Payne, PhD; Joanna Abraham, PhD; Po-Yin Yen, PhD, RN; Tara Payne, MA; Albert Lai, PhD; and Margaret Lozovatsky, MD.

In May, several Institute for Informatics (I2) faculty members earned national recognition from the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) for their work in the field of medical informatics. Margaret Lozovatsky, MD, Philip R.O. Payne, PhD, Tara Payne, MA, and Po-Yin Yen, PhD, RN, were awarded Fellowship in the AMIA.

Previously, in November 2019, Yen received the Harriet H. Werley Award for nursing informatics, Joanna Abraham, PhD, received AMIA’s New Investigator Award, and Albert Lai, PhD, was named a Fellow of the American College of Medical Informatics for his considerable and continued contributions to the field of biomedical informatics. Drs. Payne and Lai are the only two faculty at Washington University who carry this designation. There are only about 400 active fellows worldwide.

Earning Fellowship Means Making Practical Contributions

“When considering fellowship, AMIA takes into account one’s accomplishments and achievements of applying informatics in practice as a whole,” Yen says. “The association evaluates your practical contributions and impact on patient care, organizations, or methodologies in the field of biomedical informatics.”

As a usability expert, for example, Dr. Yen studies how to improve the design and technology of inpatient portals, personal health records, and mobile phone applications. “By improving the experience of these apps, we hope to help patients become more engaged and responsible in managing their own health,” Yen says. “Patients who have been diagnosed with a certain disease, for example, could use a smartphone app to better understand their condition and feel more in control of their treatment options. If they happen to experience symptoms such as fatigue or anxiety, or have issues with medication, the app could help identify how they could manage it — whether they need to see a provider right away, or if they may be able to treat their symptoms with home care instead.”

Through the use of data collection, patient observation, and personal interviews, Yen can compare across time to see what information patients are looking for and when they’re looking for it — and use that information to determine if better solutions could help improve patient and practice outcomes.

Yen is also overseeing an internship program that’s investigating how to inspire more undergraduate and graduate students in healthcare professions to develop cross-disciplinary paths that include work in biomedical informatics. “There’s such a need to brainstorm and solve problems together with researchers who have different expertise and backgrounds,” she says.

New Investigator Award Highlights Contributions to Patient Safety

“The New Investigator Award is quite competitive, reserved for people who are up-and-coming stars in the field of biomedical informatics,” Payne says. “Joanna’s peers — the most senior people in the field, actually — recognize that she’s doing impactful work in the realms of computation and informatics, patient safety, and quality.”

One of Abraham’s latest pilot studies is researching perioperative problems, specifically related to care transitions and handoffs within and between operating rooms and surgical intensive care units. “We’re using machine learning to see if we could predict postoperative risks of patients admitted to the ICU from the OR and use that information to tailor handoffs, making sure that clinicians receiving the patients can ask the right questions about patient risks and treatment priorities,” she says.

Another project involves exploring mechanisms to discover contextual circumstances that most commonly contribute to medication ordering errors.

“Our early work indicated that studying medication orders that had been voided or discontinued within electronic health record systems would be a reliable index for identifying entries that had been errors,” Abraham says. “In an inpatient setting, we can get a large volume of erroneous orders and get a hold of not just who had made the error but also who intercepted it: Who decided it was an error, and why? Can we learn from the errors people make? Can we use that information to predict contextual conditions that would be prone to errors, and feed back guidance to help prevent mistakes in the future?”

Abraham is also working on a research project related to the use of telemedicine for the OR. “It’s a completely new space with several opportunities for employing informatics methods and techniques to improve perioperative safety and clinical outcomes.”

The Institute’s Impact in the Field of Informatics

“Seeing I2 faculty recognized for what they’re doing and the impact of their work is absolutely the best part of my job as director,” Payne says. “They’re exactly the type of investigators we need in informatics — they build relationships across disciplines, articulate real-world problems, identify possible solutions to those problems, and then implement and evaluate those solutions. They’re not satisfied to declare success when something works in the laboratory, but they are also translating those solutions into real-world applications.

“The contributions that Washington University and its faculty are making to the national and international community reflect a unique confluence of research with real-world applications: We’re not just producing papers but impacting people and saving lives.”

“The contributions that Washington University and its faculty are making to the national and international community reflect a unique confluence of research with real-world applications: We’re not just producing papers but impacting people and saving lives,” says Philip R.O. Payne, PhD.