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Doctoral student gets hands-on research experience in population health

12/09/15 - BOSTON, MA. - Cassidy Griffin Phd poses for a portrait on Dec. 10, 2015. Photo by: Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Through Northeastern’s doctoral program in population health, Cassidy Griffin, PhD’20, is gaining research experience in an emerging field of health as well as an industry view of how population health and data analytics are being used to help organizations improve efficiency and effectiveness of healthcare delivery.

Population health has been defined as “the health outcome of a group of individuals, including the distribution of such outcomes within the group.” The concept represents a shift within the health fields away from reactionary and very expensive medical care to disease prevention, wellness, and effective management of chronic illness.

Here’s where Griffin comes in. As part of a new Northeastern-MEDITECH partnership, Griffin attends doctoral-level classes and also spends three days a week at MEDITECH, a Massachusetts-based health information company. At MEDITECH, Griffin applies her discovery-based skills and knowledge obtained through the population health program to help MEDITECH better assess the care management strategies and needs of healthcare organizations. These assessments are critical to MEDITECH’s ability to develop innovative electronic medical records software to help healthcare providers—including hospitals, physician organizations, and urgent care centers—report health metrics, identify patients who are at high risk for chronic conditions or hospital re-admission, and track groups of patients in need of healthcare or guidance.

My understanding of the field has grown exponentially. I learn something every time I’m there.
— Cassidy Griffin, on her work at MEDITECH

Helen Suh, who directs Northeastern’s doctoral program in population health and is a professor at Bouvé College of Health Sciences in the Department of Health Sciences, said Griffin emerged as the ideal candidate for this initiative. She and professor Gary Young, Griffin’s academic advisor, underscored her strong quantitative and analytical skills along with her academic enthusiasm and curiosity.

“Cassidy is getting a unique opportunity to experience how cutting-edge research in population health and healthcare delivery science can be used to improve quality of care and service efficiency in hospitals and other healthcare delivery settings,” Young said, who in addition to holding faculty appointments in the D’Amore-McKim School of Business and Bouvé, directs the university’s Center for Health Policy and Healthcare Research.

From left: Professor Gary Young, doctoral student Cassidy Griffin, and professor Helen Suh. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

From left: Professor Gary Young, doctoral student Cassidy Griffin, and professor Helen Suh. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

Griffin raved about her experience thus far at MEDITECH. “My understanding of the field has grown exponentially,” she said. “I learn something every time I’m there.” What’s more, she’s seen her work translate directly to the classroom and vice versa, pointing to the lessons on care management strategies discussed in her Evaluating Healthcare Quality course, which Young teaches.

The doctoral program in population health, which is based in Bouvé, is an interdisciplinary program designed to train students to become outstanding researchers and public health leaders who understand the complex factors that affect the health and well-being of various populations. Suh noted that the population health doctoral program involves faculty from across Bouvé as well as from D’Amore-McKim, the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, the College of Engineering, and the College of Computer and Information Sciences.

Through its interdisciplinary lens, the program trains the next generation of leaders in population health, a field that has connections to almost every discipline including management, economics, sociology, epidemiology, environmental engineering, and statistics.

Christine Silva, director for product managers in MEDITECH’s strategy division, oversees the company’s population health initiative and supervises Griffin. She noted that population health management is becoming increasingly important due to factors such as the increase in the nation’s aging population, rising healthcare costs, and evolving payment and care delivery models that involve Big Data and analytics, telemedicine, and Accountable Care Organizations.

Silva said the data Griffin is compiling and analyzing is critical to guiding the development of MEDITECH’s population health services. “Without her, we wouldn’t have that data,” Silva said. “For us, it’s a way to reach our customer base and get them tools they need to be successful.”