“In today’s world, information is the most critical tool in everything we do,” says Professor Kai Zheng. As a leading expert in the field of health informatics, he is pioneering new ways of harnessing and utilizing information to improve health outcomes and maximize quality of life. “At its heart, my work is about understanding people: physicians, nurses, pharmacists, patients and their caregivers,” he says. “I want to find out how they interact with information through technology and how we can make that interaction more enjoyable and effective.”
Key to transforming healthcare is a heightened emphasis on technology design, Zheng says. “Right now, the information systems used in healthcare are more like old-school cellphones. I want to take us to the smart phone stage – creating systems that are easy to use, provide relevant details and enable everybody involved in patient care to make informed decisions.” Take, for example, the potential benefits of developing more easily navigable electronic health records. “Being able to find and comprehend relevant health information quickly could lead to streamlined workflows, better clinician performance and, ultimately, better patient outcomes,” Zheng says.
Compare and Combat
Zheng’s work has the potential to impact people across the whole spectrum of care giving and receiving. As part of his research, he is creating intuitive, consumer-facing applications that empower people to take control over their own health and wellness management. “As a patient, the first question you ask yourself is, ‘How do I compare to other people combating a similar disease?'” he notes. “Imagine how helpful it would be to have an intelligent health navigator, based on publicly available national healthcare datasets, that helps patients put their illness in context, comprehend the magnitude of their lab test values and engage in positive health behavior change.”