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Learning to improve health care: U-M Medical School expands research and initiatives for learning at all levels

Charles P. Friedman, Ph.D., named first chair of Department of Learning Health Sciences

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — In order for patients to receive the best possible care, the health professionals, care teams, health institutions and health care systems that surround them must learn continuously.

Today’s ultra-connected, data-driven age makes continuous learning more possible than ever – and also enables research to test new ideas and evaluate their effect on scales as large as an entire state.

That’s why the University of Michigan Medical School has embarked on an expansion and refocusing of its department that studies learning as an emerging academic field, and named a new chairperson to lead it.  

Today, the U-M Board of Regents voted to approve Charles P. Friedman, Ph.D., as chair of the recently renamed Department of Learning Health Sciences, formerly the Department of Medical Education.

Charles P. Friedman, Ph.D.

Charles P. Friedman, Ph.D., chair of the
U-M Medical School Department of
Learning Health Sciences

Friedman, whose appointment takes effect immediately, comes to the Medical School from the U-M School of Public Health and School of Information, where he ran the joint Health Informatics program from its inception.

“We have a proud history of scholarship aimed at improving the way health professionals enhance their knowledge and skills throughout their careers,” says Medical School dean James O. Woolliscroft, M.D.  “I am delighted that under Chuck Friedman’s leadership, we will build the leading program in learning health sciences as a model for the nation.”

Woolliscroft, whose own scholarship lies in studying and improving medical education, notes that the academic programs of the newly renamed department will leverage the school’s position as part of the U-M Health System and its close relationships with U-M’s other schools and departments for health professions and information and systems sciences.

Says Friedman, “This is the fulfillment of a dream for me, bringing together my interests in education, informatics and health. I, along with many others, believe that achievement of a system that can study itself and literally learn from every patient is essential to promoting better health for all people at lower cost. Now Michigan will be at the forefront of what is taking shape as a national and international movement.”

Friedman notes that the department will focus on learning at all levels:

  • the individual student, resident, practicing physician or other health professional
  • care teams made up of individuals from different medical specialties and health professions disciplines such as nursing, pharmacy, dentistry, social work and allied health services
  • organizations, which can be a single hospital, or an institution such as UMHS which includes hospitals, outpatient care sites, a physician group and home care
  • ultra-large scale health systems, on a statewide or national scale, which can become “learning health systems” if learning science is applied to how they assess and improve performance and implement change

Friedman notes that the systems science required to produce high functioning learning at these kinds of scales is still very new. The field is by nature profoundly interdisciplinary and interprofessional, he says – making U-M an ideal place for this effort because of its many top schools and colleges in related fields. He hopes the department will be a focus for building new collaborations.

The resulting department will be among the first, if not the first, in the nation with such a broad scope. Additional faculty, with experience in fields as diverse as informatics and economics, will be recruited in coming months, and a graduate education program resulting in a Ph.D. is envisioned.

The department already offers a Masters in Health Professions Education open to practicing members of any health profession, and two scholars programs that allow U-M medical faculty to devote time to research on topics in medical education and patient safety.

Another critical component of the department is the well-respected Clinical Simulation Center, which offers faculty, staff, students and trainees state-of-the-art simulator-based training in specific techniques – and is a rich environment for evaluating and improving how such techniques are taught.

Within the framework of its expanded mission, the department will continue its critical role in the education of U-M’s own medical students and residents, including working with those developing a new curriculum for medical students that will begin to roll out next year.

About Charles P. Friedman, Ph.D.

Friedman joined U-M as professor and director of the health informatics program in 2011, and has led a U-M Global Challenges for a Third Century effort to develop a learning health system infrastructure.

Prior to coming to U-M, he held executive positions at the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, including service as the Deputy National Coordinator and ONC's Chief Scientific Officer. There, he oversaw a diverse portfolio of nationwide activities directed at use of information technology in pursuit of improved health and health care. He was the lead author of the first national health IT strategic plan which was released in June of 2008.

He has also been a senior scholar at the National Library of Medicine and associate director for research informatics and information technology of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

Before joining government, Friedman was professor, associate vice chancellor for biomedical informatics, and founding director of the Center for Biomedical Informatics at the Univ. of Pittsburgh.

Related: Interim leader named for Health Informatics Program

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