Last July I wrote about a presentation by Aaron McKethan, Ph.D., an assistant professor of population health at the Duke School of Medicine, about his experience serving as the chief data officer for the North Carolina Department of Health & Human Services (NCDHHS). He spoke about how having one foot each in the two worlds of government and academia has given him some unique insights into how academic researchers can help policymakers with data-driven decision making. He helped North Carolina partner with the state’s university researchers to create an Opioid Analytics Roadmap.
Now another Duke informatics researcher, Jessie Tenenbaum, Ph.D., is taking over that chief data officer role at NCDHHS. A founding faculty member of Duke’s Division of Translational Biomedical Informatics within the Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics, Tenenbaum will develop strategies to use information to inform and evaluate policy and improve the health and well-being of residents of North Carolina. She will maintain her faculty appointment and affiliation.
In a tweet about her new position, Tenenbaum said she was excited about “working with the amazing team at NCDHHS to enable data-driven health policy focused on the whole person.”
Her research applies expertise in data standards and electronic health records to stratify mental health disorders to enable precision medicine. She is also interested in ethical, legal and social issues around big data and precision medicine. Prior to her faculty role, Tenenbaum was associate director for bioinformatics for the Duke Translational Medicine Institute, with a focus on data standards and enterprise data warehousing.
Tenenbaum is a member of the board of directors for the American Medical Informatics Association (AMIA) and plays a leadership role in AMIA's Committee on Women in Informatics. She is an associate editor for the Journal of Biomedical Informatics and serves on the board of scientific counselors for the National Library of Medicine. She also serves on a number of editorial and advisory boards including Nature Scientific Data and Briefings in Bioinformatics. In his talk last year to a Grand Rounds meeting of the NIH Collaboratory, McKethan stressed that state government health agencies need help identifying their analytics priorities.
He said directors of these agencies are so busy with legislative hearings and interactions with federal and county counterparts, they often don’t have clear analytics priorities established.
“There is an opportunity for all of us to partner around analytics priorities,” McKethan said. “There are unique contributions universities can make in helping to set the agenda for the most important questions to ask.”
He suggested researchers help the state in asking these questions:
• What do we already know and where is policy not aligned with available evidence?
• What do we not know and how valuable would it be to know?
• What are the highest priority questions?
He said answering these questions can help a state create an analytics roadmap. Initially, it can determine what can be answered with the data and methods the state has and that can inform near-term policy issues.