The Graham School News

Friday, May 19, 2017

The University of Chicago fuels the (r)evolution of health care with a new online course

Over the past 30 years, healthcare informatics has emerged as an independent and rigorous discipline. Due to the rapid growth of clinical information systems, networked healthcare platforms, high-throughput genomic technologies, and consumer and public health informatics, the demand for knowledgeable and experienced staff and faculty has far outpaced the number of available trainees.

The Graham School at the University of Chicago serves as the center of innovative lifelong learning at the University and, in collaboration with GetSmarter, is announcing an online short course on healthcare informatics.

The eight-week program, drawing on the resources of esteemed faculty and the University’s programs in genomic research, translational medicine, and computation, is designed to give those contemplating a move into healthcare informatics an in-depth overview of the field’s key topics as well as a chance to practice and explore particular areas of interest.

Why choose healthcare informatics?

According to research, the field is expected to grow at twice the rate of employment overall in the upcoming years.

“The current paradigm in healthcare informatics is running out of steam because of the amount of data we have available to work with,” says Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Center for Research Informatics at the University of Chicago, as well as Course Convener for the Healthcare Informatics online short course.

“The key in the next ten years will be understanding how to use and apply data. Not too long ago, clinicians with a bit of computer science on the side and would become informaticists. But the world is becoming more and more complex, and much higher levels of training and understanding are required in the healthcare landscape of today. What we’re trying to do at the University of Chicago is help prepare people at all levels of the future informatics workforce.”

“The current paradigm in healthcare informatics is running out of steam because of the amount of data we have available to work with. The key in the next ten years will be understanding how to use and apply data.”

Taking a fundamental and holistic approach to biomedical informatics, the healthcare informatics course will cover the key concepts, theories, applications, and policies relating to the field. This course will also look at the various practical components required to work within the field, as well as cover the innovation and entrepreneurial opportunities that exist both in biomedical informatics and healthcare in general.

How does learning with UChicago and GetSmarter set you apart?

The University of Chicago is an urban research university that has driven new ways of thinking since 1890. Our commitment to free and open inquiry draws inspired scholars to our global campuses, where ideas are born that challenge and change the world. UChicago research has led to such breakthroughs as discovering the link between cancer and genetics. This, accompanied by UChicago’s impressive research portfolio and its reputation for being a health research thought leader, makes it the ideal institution for learning about healthcare informatics.

GetSmarter’s personalized support model of online learning, and their utilization of leading-edge learning technology, has consistently achieved unrivalled average course completion rates of 90% across a portfolio of 60+ courses from the world’s leading universities.

“Working with GetSmarter offers us the ability to share our expertise in healthcare informatics with a broader audience, to increase the impact of our program, and to offer a top-quality learning experience to students around the globe.” - Suzanne Cox, program director in biomedical informatics education

GetSmarter’s Student Performance Team builds relationships with students through extensive personal support, and facilitates student-to-student relationships with small-group discussions, collaborative project work, live classroom sessions, and community-building tools.

This tailored approach to online learning, combined with course content backed by the prestige of the University of Chicago, has resulted in a short course that innovates through both material and design.

The University of Chicago Healthcare Informatics online short course launches in the next few months. Visit the course page to find out more about what you’ll learn, how you’ll learn, and who you’ll learn from.

Sam Volchenboum
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

In a talk entitled “Using Big Data to Make Hospitals Safer” delivered on April 12 at Billings Hospital at the University of Chicago as part of the MScBMI Lecture Series, Samuel Volchenboum, MD, PhD, MS, faculty director for the Masters of Science in Biomedical Informatics (MScBMI) program at the Graham School, built a case using completed and ongoing studies for why data, when clean, accessible, and fit for analysis, can help medical researchers take definite steps to increase hospital safety.

As director of the Center for Research Informatics, Dr. Volchenboum leads a 40-person group that provides computational support and collaboration to researchers within the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division. A pediatric oncologist by training who cares for children with cancer and blood diseases, his main area of research is in utilizing large clinical data sets to make inferences about how disruptive events in the hospital can lead to downstream perturbations and alterations in healthcare delivery.

“To make hospitals safer, we need to look at many potential relationships between events,” Dr. Volchenbaum said. “By having large, well-curated data sets, we can now study highly-complex relationships between seemingly unrelated events. We’re even in a position to look at how the care of one patient might affect patients around them. With so many adverse events affecting care, it follows that we should be looking at the downstream impacts of adverse events.”

Beginning with a study carried out on Clostridium difficile, a relatively rare form of intestinal bacteria that is nevertheless among the most important causes of infectious diarrhea in the United States, he demonstrated a data-based method that uncovered a formerly unknown yet key risk factor to acquiring the infection. Noting the size of the two studies which showed the new association between the use of Prilosec and developing C. diff—the first with 1,000 patients, the second with 100,000—Dr. Volchenboum pointed to the significance of data quantity in drawing conclusions from situations whose relative rarity make noticing such correlations impossible otherwise.

He moved next to the more general question of how to determine those patients most at risk upon entering the hospital for a catastrophic health event. Focusing on cardiac arrest, he described a major study carried out using the Clinical Research Data Warehouse at UChicago where data on nearly 60,000 admissions was used to build a model called eCART.

“When a patient achieves a certain score according to the algorithm,” Dr. Volchenboum said, “he or she is at a much higher risk of having a cardiac arrest. Thus, if the score goes above a certain threshold, a response team monitoring scores in real time will go to the patient’s room and try to intervene or fix whatever factors are contributing to the high level of risk.”

Presenting an overall picture of the various areas in which data can assist in breaking down complex processes within hospitals, Dr. Volchenboum next looked beyond the patient to the environment of the hospital itself. Using data to decipher potentially unnoticed risk factors, he outlined several studies that sought to measure the broader effects that ripple through a hospital ward in response to unique stress situations. Taking code alerts and ER overcrowding as examples, Dr. Volchenboum referred to studies that not only demonstrated an increasing number of mistakes during such periods of stress, but these studies in many instances were also able to isolate particular points of breakdown that could now be addressed specifically to deter future missteps.

“But we can even start looking beyond the hospital as well when it comes to predicting potentially adverse situations and events,” he said. “For instance, how does a nursing strike affect the length of stay for patients? Or even how does a storm in the forecast or traffic congestion affect the care of patients on the ward? These things would not necessarily seem connected, but as we collect more and more data, these sorts of links could appear.”

Concluding the day’s event was the MScBMI’s program director, Suzanne Cox, PhD, MPH, who presented a synopsis of the Graham School program and its various partnerships with the University of Chicago, as well as an overview of the biomedical informatics landscape as it stands today. Highlighting the small class sizes and interactive focus of the MScBMI program, a feature setting it apart from its peers in the Chicago area, she also noted its excellent professional network and the many opportunities for students to tap into it.

“With more and more emphasis being placed on informatics across the healthcare industry,” she said, “our corporate sponsors are increasingly eager to connect with students in the program. In fact, the demand for workers in the field is expected to grow at twice the national average in the upcoming years. As a focus on clinical informatics spreads throughout the healthcare system and the significance of inferences we can draw from data increases, we’re seeing new teams and positions emerge and that only adds to the career opportunities. As Dr. Volchenboum’s lecture made clear,” she added, “we’re living through an exciting time for biomedical informatics, with lots of key steps likely to be taken in the upcoming years.”

MLA infografic brain with multiple icons floating around inside.
Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On Wednesday, May 31, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the University of Chicago’s Gleacher Center, the Graham School’s Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) program will host Christian Madsbjerg, author of Sensemaking: The Power of the Humanities in the Age of the Algorithm and founder of ReD Associates, who will give a presentation entitled “Bridging the Gap: The Power of the Liberal Arts in the Age of the Algorithm” focusing on his experience using the lessons of the liberal arts to solve commercial problems for companies such as Ford, Nike, and Adidas.

The presentation will lead into a panel discussion featuring Madsbjerg, Don Phillips, managing director at Morningstar, Jan Perrino, principal at Perrino & Associates and alumna of the MLA program, John Wasik, business columnist for Forbes and Bloomberg, David Kalt, the founder and CEO at, and Mark Miller, associate professor at the University of Chicago. Adult beverages and appetizers will follow, along with opportunities to network.

In a time already referred to as the age of the algorithm, when more and more businesses look to data for answers to their most pressing problems, it stands as a potentially surprising observation that businesses lack a sufficient grounding in the liberal arts. And yet with the iPhone now already a decade old and much of the present business landscape dominated by me-too products and copycat companies, there is the startling possibility that our current data-focused orientation has opened up a gap between our everyday business practices and the mainsprings of innovation and creativity essential to commercial flourishing. Have businesses, to their detriment, lost touch with the roots of human experience and knowledge in the liberal arts?

As Madsbjerg argues in his new book Sensemaking, an underappreciated key to many of today’s most significant business success stories involves a deeply nuanced engagement with aspects of culture and language lying outside the reach of any algorithm. More and more, he notes, companies are calling on workers with backgrounds in the liberal arts to bridge this gap between the copious quantities of data documenting their products’ use and the everyday contexts and situations that are at once so hard to capture in data and yet so critical to understanding the complete picture of their products’ role in the lives of consumers.

At the consulting firm ReD Associates, for instance, where Madsbjerg is a senior partner, graduates in philosophy, anthropology, and art history are hired to immerse themselves in the daily lives of companies where they use methodologies from the human sciences to understand and solve business problems containing high levels of complexity. As these areas of intractable complexity grow in the upcoming years and companies come to appreciate the value of this unquantifiable terrain complementing the age of the algorithm, the skills of liberal artists will become all the more essential to understanding and bridging this gap.

For 25 years, the MLA program has provided a comprehensive interdisciplinary education in the liberal arts to adults. In small classroom settings led by University of Chicago faculty, the program’s offerings range across the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences, and biological sciences, granting MLA graduates powerful tools with which to analyze and impact the world around them. Through lectures, readings, and engaging discussions, students study the works of the thinkers and writers whose impact on humanity’s relation to the fundamental questions continues to shape the world today.

RSVP here

Monday, May 8, 2017


UChicago Graham School Master of Science in Threat and Response Management alumnus Jim W. was the emergency management leader at a large pharmacy chain with retail locations across the United States when a cascading series of events proved the value of careful, calm communications in the face of potentially catastrophic events.

He had to deal with an earthquake damaging locations in Virginia at the same time as Hurricane Irene moved up the east coast of the United States. At the nearly the same time, there was the potential for a major explosion to damage an important distribution center in Texas.

The only way for Jim to lead an effective response to protect the whole organization against each of these events was communication. Watch his interview to see how he engaged the top levels of the organization, and partnerships with public agencies, to maintain a coordinated and effective response that ensured the safety of those involved and a smooth return to business operations.


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