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Health Informatics finds its NICHE

Posted by CS Magazine on April 14, 2014 in News, Research

Originally shared in the Spring 2014 CS Magazine.

They’ve established their niche on the fourth floor of the Goldberg Computer Science Building; a group of 20 researchers who are changing the face of health care. Led by Dr. Raza Abidi, the team is known as the NICHE group (kNowledge Intensive Computing for Healthcare Enterprises).

The group spends their day actively investigating and developing innovative health informatics technologies to support both healthcare providers and patients. They conduct research in four main areas: Healthcare Knowledge Management and Semantic Web; Health Data Analytics; Personalized Patient Support; and Mobile Health. Seven postdoctoral fellows, Seven PhD students, five masters students and two research associates form the core team.

Health informatics is an interdisciplinary area of research where computer science meets healthcare. Research focuses on the acquisition, storage, retrieval, and use of information/knowledge to help deliver healthcare that is effective, economical, safe and patientcentered.

In Canada, the demand for skilled workers in health informatics is quickly growing along with the need to deliver less expensive and high quality health care. Today, advanced tools such as electronic medial records, decision support system and patient/provider portals are transforming the way information and knowledge is being used.

With a variety of projects on the go, The NICHE group has extensive expertise in these areas and more. Their approach is to conduct research in knowledge management to develop semantic web based technologies that are finally applied to specialized health informatics solutions.

The group has developed innovative knowledge management solutions to computerize paper-based healthcare knowledge (such as guidelines, assessment tools, pathways, etc.) and render them as point-of-care decision support systems that assist healthcare providers to deliver evidencebased care.

Empowering and educating patients to self-manage their conditions is another area of focus for the group. Their research involves behavior modeling and long-term care planning through a combination of information personalization and mobile technologies. Given the large amounts of data being generated by healthcare processes and the need for data-driven decision support for patient care, the NICHE group has an active research program in healthcare data management and data analytics. The group is currently developing a dedicated health data analytics infrastructure called H-DRIVE (Healthcare Data Retrieval, Inferencing and Visualization Environment) that will allow end-users to perform complex healthcare analytics to help improve healthcare safety, quality and efficiency. H-DRIVE is being applied to analyze an assortment of large health datasets for clinical decision support and process optimization purposes.

Another large-scale project currently under way is IMPACT-AF, which aims to develop interactive web-based decision support tools for transferring knowledge from leading cardiologists to care providers and patients in the management of Atrial Fibrillation. More on IMPACT-AF can be found elsewhere in this magazine.

The NICHE group has established extensive collaborations with health care professionals and organizations for both physicians and patients, and they jointly investigate and develop innovative health informatics solutions.

Some of the innovative health informatics projects are:

  • ADVICE - Can develop an innovative healthcare knowledge management infrastructure that integrates knowledge- and data-centric decision support services for both physicians and patients. 
  • COMET - Can bring together clinical guidelines for different disease conditions to handle co-morbid conditions 
  • PULSE – Can develop personalized patient education packages based on relevant cardiovascular health information and the patient’s readiness to adapt lifestyle changes. 
  • D-WISE – Can assist diabetes patients to modify their behavior towards healthy lifestyles by empowering them with personalized behavior modification strategies patients through a mobile app. 
  • Prostate Cancer Management Pathways – Can create standardized prostate cancer management pathways across multiple institutions by aligning institution-specific clinical pathways 
  • Breast Cancer Follow-up Decision Support System – Can support family physicians to perform breast cancer follow based on Canadian guidelines for the follow-up care of breast cancer.
  • YouCan – Can address the educational, communication and care management aspects of youth cancer care programs for youth cancer survivors aged 12-29. 

While most projects are in the field of healthcare, the NICHE group has applied their expertise in other areas. Recently the group completed work on the POKM project, which created a platform to provide ocean scientists with a range of data management services. The project was conducted in collaboration with the Ocean Tracking Network, based at Dalhousie.

And while it’s always nice to lend a helping hand wherever they can be of service, their pride and passion will always lie in the delivery of efficient healthcare for patients.