Health Data Field Fuels New Department at Miller School of Medicine

Azizi Seixas, Ph.D., interim chair of the new Department of Informatics and Health Data Science, aims to increase data’s impact on human health.

Azizi Seixas, Ph.D.
Azizi Seixas, Ph.D.

The University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is about to take a giant leap in how it acquires, manages, and interprets health data to inspire action. The University has established the Department of Informatics and Health Data Science to impact how data is applied to education, research, clinical care, private ventures, and service and outreach. It’s a major undertaking.

“I am so honored to lead this department,” said Dr. Seixas, interim chair of the new department and associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences. “We are bringing in data scientists, biostatisticians, and computer scientists, but that’s just the start. We are also reexamining UM’s relationship with data to make transformative changes in health care. We’re entering this space to redefine it.”

Dr. Seixas is a data evangelist. He came to the Miller School in 2021 from NYU Langone Health, where he was an assistant professor in the departments of population health and psychiatry. Since arriving, he has embraced a broad portfolio of responsibilities: director of both the Media and Innovation Lab and Population Health Informatics in the Institute of Data Science and Computing, and associate director of the Center for Translational Sleep and Circadian Sciences. The common thread is data, and Dr. Seixas wants to revolutionize how we use it.

“Azizi Seixas is incredibly committed to making data work for researchers, clinicians, and most importantly, patients,” said Henri R. Ford, M.D., M.H.A., dean and chief academic officer of the Miller School. “Not just one stream of data, like the readout from genomic sequencing, but comprehensive data from research, clinical trials, remote monitoring, and many other sources. We want to reimagine academic medicine, health care, and the life sciences to make profound improvements in patient care.”

Big Data’s Big Tent

While data is ubiquitous, different formats are often funneled into their own impregnable silos. By bringing information from multiple disciplines under one roof, the goal is that the new department will help researchers cross-pollinate ideas and approaches.

“We want to generate a free exchange of intellectual capital, ideas, and technologies to dive into traditional informatics, while also elevating understudied areas, such as population health,” said Dr. Seixas.

Dr. Seixas speaking at meeting
“We teach our students the scientific method or the engineering method, but rarely the innovation method,” Dr. Seixas said. “We must enrich our medical and scientific education to include these approaches.”

In education, the department wants to show young clinicians and scientists how data catalyzes impact. Working with the private sector on internships and other collaborations, Dr. Seixas and colleagues are developing a new generation of innovators who embrace information.

“We teach our students the scientific method or the engineering method, but rarely the innovation method,” Dr. Seixas said. “We must enrich our medical and scientific education to include these approaches.”

The department embraces a “rhizomatic” vision of how information can be transformative. The term is derived from rhizome, the vertical stalk that produces a plant’s entire root system. No matter where the roots grow, the rhizome harnesses their input to support a healthy plant.

Looking at data as rhizomatic allows the department’s team to see biological, behavioral, clinical, digital, environmental, social, political, and psychological data as equally important in understanding health. They embrace a precision and personalized population health framework, one that will use data to generate insights along a continuum that begins with describing a phenomenon and ends with decentralizing and democratizing research and data.

On the clinical side, the department wants to help advance remote health applications, such as telemedicine and smart devices. These technologies could give patients new opportunities to heal at home, rather than in the hospital. “We want to provide the right treatments at the right times in the right dosages across any context,” said Dr. Seixas.

The next pillar is called private venture, which governs how the Miller School interacts with the larger life sciences community. Sometimes promising scientific findings lie uncultivated because they seemingly have no pathway forward. Funneling informatics and health data into one department will clarify the translational processes and help researchers advance their ideas towards new therapies.

“We want companies to see that the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is one of the easiest academic institutions to work with,” said Dr. Seixas. “Sometimes, ideas with great therapeutic potential are published in prestigious journals but never get to patients. We want to advance those technologies and create a new revenue model to fuel innovation and investigation.”

The last pillar is outreach, which seeks out new collaborations throughout South Florida’s many communities. In one example, the department is partnering with historically Black colleges and universities to help them advance their research.

Overall, the department wants to create a feedback loop, in which new ideas and approaches from around the University are fed into the department, refined, and fed back to the Miller School community, spreading knowledge and innovation.

“We want to develop a learning health care system that will make the Miller School of Medicine the preeminent medical institution in the country,” said Dr. Seixas. “But we don’t accomplish that alone. We do it through collaboration within our campus community and with academic institutions around the world and with data and life sciences companies. Together, we build an innovation machine that can have the greatest possible impact on patient health.”

Tags: Dean Henri R. Ford, Department of Informatics and Health Data Science, Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Azizi Seixas, Institute of Data Science and Computing, Media and Innovation Lab, Miller School of Medicine, Population Health Informatics