BHI research at the UW started in the late 1970's and early 1980's with the establishment of a structural informatics research group by Dr. Cornelius Rosse and Dr. Jim Brinkley and an artificial intelligence in medicine research group by Dr. Ira Kalet. From the start these were interdisciplinary research groups in which the BHI faculty member played a key leadership, bridging and translational role. For example Dr. Kalet led the creation of a research team that combined his expertise in software design and radiation treatment planning, faculty from Computer Science and Engineering with expertise in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Software Engineering, and faculty in Radiation Oncology with expertise in radiation treatment of malignancies. Together they explored ways of using AI techniques to improve radiation therapy treatment planning(1, 2).
The later part of the 1980's saw the growth of multiple independent interdisciplinary groups doing BHI research at the UW. In the 1990's there were three large BHI grants that brought together many of these previously disparate interdisciplinary BHI research groups to collaborate together on institutional BHI research and implementation projects. These grants included a Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho (WWAMI) rural telemedicine research project (1994, Dr. Norris PI); an IAIMS implementation grant (1994, Dr. Fuller PI); and a Next Generation Internet telemedicine research grant looking at taking the results of IAIMS implementation process beyond the walls of the UW into the WWAMI region. These three BHI grants resulted in the development of a larger collaborative BHI research community as well as recognition by institutional leadership in the Health Sciences of the potential importance of a BHI research program. In particular the IAIMS grant led to the establishment of a steering committee interested in BHI research and BHI applications that included leadership from all the Schools in the Health Sciences (the Schools of Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Dentistry, Social Work, and the School of Public Health and Community Medicine). The faculty engaged in BHI research on these three BHI projects formed the nucleus of the current BHI training program (Drs. Brinkley, Fuller, Kalet, Norris, and Tarczy-Hornoch in particular)
The support of the leadership in the Health Sciences Schools at UW laid the foundation for the establishment of a Graduate Program in BHI--built on a growing tradition of research training at UW. Faculty engaged in BHI research since the 1980's had included students from diverse MS and PhD programs as members of their research teams (including students in Computer Science and Engineering, Bioengineering, Electrical Engineering, Information Sciences, as well as biomedical science PhD programs such as Nursing). During the 1990's the three large BHI grants allowed faculty engaged in BHI research to fund post-doctoral students. Furthermore the coalescence of the different research groups allowed the groups to compete successfully for NLM individual informatics research training grants for post-doctoral students to work in labs.
In 1997 the Department of Medical Education under the leadership of the new chair, Dr. Fredric Wolf, created the Division of Biomedical and Health Informatics (DBHI) as a home for the interdisciplinary group of faculty whose primary focus was BHI research. The inclusion of the term Health in the name of DBHI was to recognize both that public health was a key piece of BHI in the long term, and that the focus of BHI needed to include not just treatment of disease but maintenance of health. Dr. Kalet (PI) led the DBHI faculty, in close collaboration with the leadership of the Health Sciences Schools and consultation of the leadership of the Information School and Computer Science and Engineering, to write an internal UW grant proposal to establish a Graduate Program.
In 1999 the DBHI received grant funding from the UW to establish an interdisciplinary Biomedical and Health Informatics Graduate Program. This funding and the establishment of an academic home provided the resources to seven new faculty members along with support staff to develop and teach in the Graduate Program as well as extend the research program. These faculty included Drs. Doctor, Gennari, Karras, Lober, Masuda, and Pratt. It is noteworthy both Dr. Lober and Dr. Masuda were products of UW post-doctoral BHI training. The funding also allowed DBHI to pay existing DBHI faculty to develop and teach in the BHI graduate program, including Drs. Brinkley, Fuller, Kalet, and Tarczy-Hornoch. In 2001, Dr. Tarczy-Hornoch was named Head of the Division of Biomedical and Health Informatics. In recognition of the critical role of BHI in the Department of Medical Education, in 2002 the Department was renamed the Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics (MEBI). The establishment and funding of the UW BHI Graduate Program was done with the strong support of the UW organizational units whose research and training contributes to or is impacted by the BHI Graduate program. The units supporting the creation of the UW BHI program were: the School of Medicine (including the Department of Genome Sciences), the School of Nursing, the School of Public Health and Community Medicine, the Information School, the Department of Bioengineering (joint in School of Medicine and College of Engineering), and the Department of Computer Science. The BHI Graduate Program and post-graduate program training activities do not overlap and are highly synergistic with the training activities of these UW units.
Since 2002 DBHI has continued on an upward trajectory. In 2002, DBHI awarded the first MS degree and has awarded 25 MS degrees to date. In 2005, the Division awarded its first PhD degree and have graduated 9 PhD students since with our most recent in March 2009. In 2002, The Division was awarded a National Library of Medicine T15 Research Training Program, which was competitively renewed in 2007, helping the program become one of the top programs in the country. Alumni of the program are employed at Columbia University, Virginia Commonwealth University, UW, Microsoft and other industry companies. (see alumni webpage)
The faculty of DBHI continues to grow and mature. A number of junior faculty have been successfully promoted to the Associate Professor level (Wanda Pratt, John Gennari). Our affiliated faculty list continues to grow. We have continued to recruit faculty including Dr. George Demiris as Director of our Graduate Program (replacing Dr. Jason Doctor, now at USC), Drs. Neil Abernethy and Anne Turner (replacing Dr. Bryant Karras, now working in Seattle & King County Public Health in the Seattle area), and Dr. Nick Anderson (a graduate of our program) was hired to assist with the work related to the Institute of Translational Health Sciences.
Dr. Meliha Yetisgen-Yildiz joined the BHI core faculty as an Assistant Professor starting December 1, 2009. She received her BS degree in Computer Engineering and Information Science from Bilkent University (Ankara, Turkey) and MS degree on Computer Engineering from Middle East Technical University (Ankara, Turkey). She received her PhD from the University of Washington with a thesis on Biomedical Informatics in December 2007. After working as a post-doctoral researcher at UW, she joined Kiha, Inc. as a text mining researcher. Her current research interests include biomedical text mining and information extraction. She will be focused on a project working with Peter Tarczy-Hornoch and other leadership of the Northwest Institute for Genetic Medicine (http://www.nwigm.org/) using Natural Language Processing approaches to extract phenotype from the electronic medical record for research purposes (funded by the NWIGM LSDF award).
Leadership of the clinical computing operations group (UW Medicine Information Technology Services) has for the last three years been provided by affiliate and core BHI faculty members.
In June 2011, Peter Tarczy-Hornoch assumed the role of Acting Chair, Department of Medical Education and Biomedical Informatics, in addition to his role as Division Head of Biomedical and Health Informatics.