Published December 11, 2013
Peter L. Elkin, MD, is among the first eight physicians nationwide to pass the certification exam in clinical informatics.
The chair of UB’s new Department of Biomedical Informatics learned in September that he had passed the subspecialty’s inaugural exam, which was administered by the American Board of Preventive Medicine.
Because he co-authored the written test, Elkin took a rigorous oral exam.
Elkin will receive his clinical informatics certification in January, more than a decade and a half after he began advocating for the discipline to be elevated to the rank of subspecialty.
“This is an incredibly gratifying moment for me, both personally and as a professional in the field of biomedical informatics,” he says.
“We are at a point in time when medicine is recognizing that biomedical informatics is a proper clinical subspecialty, just like cardiology, cardiac surgery or gastroenterology.”
In 2011, Elkin co-wrote the American Medical Informatics Association’s white paper defining biomedical informatics and specifying the core competencies for graduate education in the field.
Elkin launched his career in biomedical informatics in the 1980s, well before electronic health records began phasing out paper charts and physicians made rounds with tablet PCs tucked under their arms.
Three decades later, he’s widely considered a pioneer in the field for his prolific research on health data representation, his work on fully automated electronic quality monitoring, his efforts to standardize patient safety data and his contributions to the most accurate natural language processing software in health care.
“In the early days of the specialty, people knew clinical informatics was important for the future of health and health care, but the technology didn’t support all of the important ideas that professionals in biomedical informatics envisioned,” Elkin says.
“Today, the technology supports that vision—and that vision is to systemize health care in order to provide the best care for all patients.”
Since he joined UB’s faculty in July, Elkin has been harnessing his considerable expertise in biomedical informatics to strengthen health care and biomedical research in Western New York.
With support from Kaleida Health, he’s co-chairing a committee to use electronic resources to enhance patient care and safety.
“We will teach best practice in quality and safety and then provide tools to monitor the quality of care provided, making the data available to the physicians who will train residents, fellows and staff,” explains Elkin, who has been integrally involved in the electronic quality monitoring movement since its inception.
By year’s end, Elkin also plans to install a genomic data analysis pipeline that will facilitate clinical genomic research for UB scientists.
He developed this toolset while at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he served as professor of medicine and director of its center for biomedical informatics before coming to UB.
Combining sets of open-source software, the program integrates genomic and phenomic data, allowing researchers to perform translational research and genome-wide association studies more easily, efficiently and inexpensively.
Alongside Michael E. Cain, MD, vice president for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Timothy F. Murphy, MD, senior associate dean for clinical and translational research, Elkin also has initiated conversations with stakeholders in UB’s affiliated hospitals and health care systems about the prospect of developing a common infrastructure for research data across campuses.
“This would be a way to facilitate multi-center trials in our region and encourage collaboration and population-based research,” he says.
Within the biomedical informatics department, Elkin is recruiting five division chiefs and paving the way for its first group of students, whom he hopes will begin their coursework in the fall of 2014.
With approval from the state, the department will offer both master’s and PhD degree tracks as well as a two-year clinical informatics fellowship for physicians who are board-certified in a primary specialty.
Given the bright job market for graduates of clinical informatics programs, Elkin expects robust interest in the department.
Physicians with board certification in clinical informatics may choose careers as chief medical information officers in hospitals, within the CMIO’s office or as academic faculty within their primary clinical department, he says.
Health IT vendors, academic institutions and the government are all heavily recruiting specialists in the field, he adds.
While Elkin anticipates that the new department will make the medical school even more attractive to prospective students, his goal is that its work will effect positive change well beyond the school’s walls.
“The main benefit of having this department in Western New York is that we’re working toward higher quality and safer systems-based health care for everyone in the region,” he says.
“Our hope is that the innovations that will be generated in our scientific environment can be catalysts for new job development—and, in some cases, new corporate development—in Western New York.”