As the new Chair of this Department, I am excited about the enterprise that lies before us in population health and health data science. In our work, the questions are the most important aspect of the research endeavor, and we must be open to surprising, multifaceted answers. The DBEI will move forward strategically, in response to emerging science. In that spirit, I want to highlight a few areas where I believe that we in the DBEI community can build on our strengths and contribute even more to the health of the public.
- Social justice: Randomized trials can reveal some of the complicated issues that lurk behind disparities in health outcomes. We also need new methodologies to disentangle the different aspects of race: as one example, of a latent class variable.
- Natural experiments, including COVID-19: In addition to commenting on the pandemic itself, we have other huge opportunities all over the world. For instance, what does the reduced air pollution in many cities show us about the links between air quality and cardiovascular disease?
- Randomized trials of low-cost interventions: My research has explored some of these do-able solutions, and I believe we can discover—and implement—many more.
- Response to changing exposures, such as opioid use: In this difficult area, we need new models, new ways of thinking that will allow us to respond more quickly!
- Machine learning, causal inference, and electronic health records (EHR): The DBEI is known for its achievements in these areas, which remain ripe for expansion.
- Pharmacological agents: While COVID-19 presents us with many natural experiments regarding drug effects, the opioid epidemic also continues to rage on.
- Translation from bench to bedside—and vice versa: Our work must not only be relevant to but must be inspired by the needs we see in the communities that surround us.
I want to emphasize that these ideas are a starting place. I welcome new ideas and remain open to moving in new directions, motivated both by scientific discovery and by constantly evolving public needs.
Enrique F. Schisterman, PhD