Media Contacts

Melinda Rogers

Communications Specialist, University of Utah Health Sciences Office of Public Affairs

Apr 01, 2014 2:06 PM

Header image for Bridges conference

What happens when the medical professionals and researchers work together to identify health trends in the local community to better understand the needs of patients?

That question was the basis for a project launched by Suzanne Bakken and colleagues at Columbia University in New York, who developed an initiative called the “Informatics-Enabled Community Engagement in the Washington Heights Informatics Infrastructure for Comparative EffectivenessResearch (WICER) Project.”  Bakken, RN, Ph.D, FAAN, FACMI, an Alumni Professor of Nursing and Professor of Biomedical Informatics at Columbia University, and her colleagues tried to further their understanding of the causes of disease in their surrounding local community and to compare the different methods of preventing, diagnosing and treating health conditions through the use of a community-focused data infrastructure. Their project had several positive outcomes, including helping people connect with services and care to better manage high-blood pressure.

Bakken shared her story Tuesday at the University of Utah with participants at an innovative symposium sponsored by the Utah Personalized Health Care Consortium called Building Bridges: Achieving a Community-Valued Approach to Personalized Health Care

The two-day event provided a unique forum for public and community leaders, health care providers, researchers and educators to come together to advance the agenda of personalized, participatory health care and wellness across Utah's communities.

Bakken, the event’s keynote speaker, outlined the WICER project as an example for how extensive outreach programs can help engage some underserved populations who may be at-risk for certain health problems and diseases to make better health decisions. The WICER project developed a health registry of the Washington Heights/Inwood communities near Manhattan, which enabled researchers to track health needs, health outcomes and demographic data to improve patient care.

The WICER project developed health registries after surveying participants, which serve as databases that store anonymous health-related information for a large swath of people living in community neighborhoods.  The registries allowed researchers to flag certain health-related needs in neighborhoods and develop ideas for changing the health trends over time. For example, the project’s extensive surveying and accompanying results allowed development of a blood pressure measurement program. The program  connected people with high blood pressure in the high-poverty and highly diverse Washington Heights/Inwood area to services and resources that could help them  make better health choices.

The project not only provided  patients with health information , but it also helped to connect New York Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University Medical Center to constituents in need of services. Bakken cited several important takeaways from the project, including the importance of strong community engagement approaches to connect with patients and encourage them to participate in research.

Bakken’s lecture was one part of a diverse set of topics at the Building Bridges event.

Stephen C. Alder, Ph.D., Chief of the Division of Public Health and Co-Director of the Community Outreach and Collaboration Core of the Center for Clinical and Translational Science at the University of Utah, said the symposium  helped to move conversations around health care transformation forward during a time of great change.

“I believe we are entering into the age of collaboration, where we will see great advances through strategic partnerships.  Building Bridges is designed with that idea in mind.  Bringing together the academic world, the health system and the public provides an opportunity to think about achieving health and wellness in new ways that can drive health system transformation,” said Alder. “The unique format of the symposium provided opportunities for people with multiple perspectives to interact in ways that challenge current approaches and drive solutions that can literally change health and wellness for Utah, the U.S. and the world.

He noted the symposium is just the beginning of the conversation surrounding personalized health care.

“The aim is for this to serve as a spark that will ignite a process that will result in achieving the right care, at the right time, for the right cost – for everyone.  I look forward to contributing what I can and gaining from what others will bring to this process,” Alder said.