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Biomedical Informatics: Dr. Andy Boyd’s research in biomedical and health informatics aims to shape the future of healthcare

Dr. Andy Boyd smiles at the camera in a suit and red tie.

With a background in mathematics and a medical journey that took an unexpected turn into research, Andy Boyd, MD, shares his rich experience spanning two decades in the field. From his early exposure to the field of informatics to his current roles as the University of Illinois Chicago’s Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Chief Research Information Officer, Dr. Boyd provides insights into the evolving landscape of healthcare technology.

Teaching for UIC’s online Master of Science in Health Informatics (MSHI) program, Dr. Boyd emphasizes the importance of bridging the gap between disciplines, sharing examples from his career that underscore the significance of clinical experience in shaping effective informatics solutions. As we explore Dr. Boyd’s background, we also get a sneak peek into some of the exciting projects he’s a part of. From addressing bias found in electronic health records to spearheading innovative solutions like the MyPHA app, Dr. Boyd envisions a transformative future for healthcare.

Learn more about Dr. Boyd and his passion for pushing the boundaries of biomedical and health informatics to shape the future of healthcare.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I started off as a mathematician. When I went off to medical school, I thought I was going to be a physician treating patients. However, I got a clinical research opportunity working with health data and I fell in love. At the end of medical school, instead of doing what every other physician does, which is residency, I decided to pursue a research career. I did a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan in biomedical and health informatics. During this time, most doctors were still using paper, so it was interesting to invest your career in something that few people were venturing into or comprehending.

I have 20 years of experience in biomedical and health informatics. After working at the University of Michigan, I transitioned to Chicago, spending a year in the industry with OEM partners of larger EHR systems. I’m currently an Associate Professor in the Department of Biomedical and Health Information Sciences at UIC, and I have courtesy appointments in the Department of Physical Therapy and the Department of Medical Education. I am also the Associate Chief Health Information Officer for Innovation and Research at UI Health. In 2020, I played a role in transitioning UI Health from Cerner to Epic, focusing on research integration. Besides that, I’m the Associate Vice Chancellor for Research and Chief Research Information Officer in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research. We have lots of research on campus and my job is to figure out how do we help ensure and encourage compliance across the entire university’s research portfolio.

How has your MD been helpful with your career trajectory in biomedical and health informatics?

It really depends on what career trajectory you want. Being a physician, nurse, or any individual with clinical training, you have the training, knowledge, and skillsets to help evaluate or understand the decision-making process in the field of health informatics. When I’m talking to a computer scientist or clinicians, I use my medical knowledge.

Working at a different research institution, I received 3D goggles for navigating a 3D CT scan where the patient was standing. I questioned the approach for OR prep. They even had surgical collaborators that could have told them the way we approach the human body. That’s just a small example where clinical experience can help your career in the biomedical and health informatics field. What makes the field of health informatics so important is the translation between professions. We all can’t know everything but being able to work with others to understand and collaborate successfully is critical to advancing healthcare.

How did you become interested in biomedical informatics? What keeps you excited about the field?

I got exposed to the field back when very few people knew about the field. We still had professional societies, but the field was still relatively small. I’m thrilled about the potential for future innovations, and that’s what keeps my excitement alive. Within the last decade, almost 98-99% of all clinicians are using electronic health records. However, we still have a long way to go. These systems are not intuitive and it’s the number one leading cause of burnout for physicians or nurses. How can we decrease the burden and what are the novel ways going forward, such as new algorithms, new treatment modalities, new innovations, etc. If our innovations are digital, we can be treating billions of people within 5 to 10 years. If we do this right, we can deploy manufacturing and medications worldwide. How can we transform healthcare for the betterment of the world at a speed and scale that was unimaginable even 20 years ago? That’s what gets me excited.

One of your papers received honorable mention in the year in review at the AMIA 2023 Annual Symposium. Can you tell us about this paper?

I’m a co-investigator on a multi-site project titled the GRACE trial. We’re looking at patients with sickle cell disease who have chronic pain. We’re evaluating acupuncture, guided relaxation. and treatment as usual in a SMART randomized design trial at UIC, Duke University and University of Florida. We’re adding John Hopkins University and Emory University shortly.

My paper is part of the NIH Collaboratory, specifically the GRACE trial study, a pragmatic clinical trial within a larger group of trials nationwide. The NIH Collaboratory aims to conduct pragmatic clinical trials addressing various health issues. The Electronic Health Record (EHR) core, which includes health informatics professionals, meets monthly to discuss challenges and solutions across trials. One challenge all studies in the Core addressed is bias in EHR data, stemming from factors like insurance status, and location of health systems. To ensure fairness, we explore alternatives such as addressing the digital divide and health literacy to ensure equitable participation in research. Our goal is to engage diverse communities equitably in clinical trials. We can’t fix the health care system, but there are ways to outreach to communities in a way that is fair and equitable to ensure those who are part of the clinical trials are representative of the entire U.S. population and not just the highly educated with insurance.

Tell us about the most exciting project you are working on right now.

We’re finishing up a National Cancer Institute grant project in collaboration with UIC Computer Science Professor Barbara Di Eugenio and a team of six faculty members. Dr. Di Eugenio, director of the natural language processing lab, focuses on natural language generation. Her work involves developing an algorithm for nurse-doctor differences in summarizing hospital care. The project, called MyPHA (My Personalized Hospitalization App), combines physician and nursing language with the patient’s perspective to create personalized summaries for heart failure patients. These summaries aim to motivate patients to follow directions and prevent hospital readmissions. We’ll conduct a study next semester to gauge patient responses to these interdisciplinary and patient-centered summaries, hoping to enhance the meaningfulness of healthcare data accessibility for patients.

Is there anything else you would like to share regarding the health informatics field?

Health informatics is an exciting field. I never want another global pandemic, but one of the benefits was the entire population now understands the importance of health data. We are just at the beginning stages of how we leverage this to improve the U.S. and worldwide healthcare systems. This is our chance to improve public health. It’s an exciting time in the field of health informatics. There’s lots of exciting growth both with artificial intelligence and traditional methodologies.

 

Dr. Andy Boyd uses his background and expertise in biomedical informatics to teach the online MSHI courses, BHIS 437: Health Care Data and BHIS 509: Informatics for the Clinical Investigator.

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