Home » News » Newsletter from the Population Health Informatics Program | November 2021

Newsletter from the Population Health Informatics Program | November 2021

Population Health Informatics Program |

November 2021

Ashish Joshi, Phd, MBBS, MPH
Senior Associate Dean
Student and Academic Affairs


As the semester comes to an end, I hope you are all doing well in your classes, and good luck on your finals! I’m proud to have assisted the PHIIRE Club in creating the first PHIIREATHON: An Innovation to Ideation Impact Event to Address COVID-19 Vaccine hesitancy, hopefully, one of many events that will help address timely public health challenges with innovative digital health approaches with an informatics lens. That is my goal to help foster this out-of-the-box thinking amongst you all to propose, conceptualize, and deliver small-scale evidence-based interventions to those who need it most. I look forward to hearing from you and helping you scale your ideas to help tackle the public health challenges that arise post-COVID-19 and beyond.

Table of Contents

  1. Save the Date
  2. Informatics News  
  3. Research Highlight
  4. Global Health Informatics Tool
  5. Student Spotlight Series 
  6. PHIIRE Club

Upcoming PHI Talks for Which You Should Save the Date

NSF Human-Technology Interface Series: Pathways to Products for Lifelong Learning Workshops

November 16, 2021 | Webinar

What Health Healthcare Providers Need to Know About Information Sharing & the Information Blocking Regulation

November 17, 2021 | Webinar


November 17. 2021 | Webinar

Beyond COVID-19: Embracing Digital Health as the New Norm

November 21-23, 2021 | Digital Event

PHI In the News

An agent-based model of spread of a pandemic with visualization using COVID-19 data from New York State

We introduce a novel agent-based model where each agent carries an effective viral load that captures the instantaneous state of infection of the agent. We simulate the spread of a pandemic and subsequently validate it by using publicly available COVID-19 data. Our simulation tracks the temporal evolution of a virtual city or community of agents in terms of contracting infection, recovering asymptomatically, or getting hospitalized. Agents interact with other agents in virtual public places like at grocery stores, on public transportation and in offices. We initially seed the virtual community with a very small number of infected individuals and then monitor the disease spread and hospitalization over a period of fifty days, which is a reasonable time-frame for the initial spread of a pandemic. Read More

Data Interpretation and visualization of COVID-19 cases using R programming

Data analysis and visualization are essential for exploring and communicating medical research findings, especially when working with COVID records. Data on COVID-19 diagnosed cases and deaths from December 2019 is collected automatically from www.statista.com, datahub.io, and the Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute (MDPI). We have developed an application for data visualization and analysis of several indicators to follow the SARS-CoV-2 epidemic using Statista, Data Hub, and MDPI data from densely populated countries like the United States, Japan, and India using R programming. Read More


An Evidence-Based Approach on Academic Management in a School of Public Health Using SMAART Model

  • Data-driven modeling, action, and strategies have become popular, and the education community has witnessed increased interest in data-driven decision-making (DDDM). DDDM values and prioritizes decisions supported by high-quality, verifiable data that has been effectively processed and analyzed. The objective of our study is to describe the design, development, and implementation of a data-driven, evidence-based model of academic development in the context of CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Health Policy (CUNY SPH) utilizing SMAART (Sustainability Multisector Accessible Affordable Reimbursable Tailored) model. The alignment of academic and student affairs within CUNY SPH brought with it several challenges. Defining roles and responsibilities across different student and academic affair units with a goal of collaborative leadership model and lack of meaningfulness were key challenges. Read More

Global Health Informatics Visualizations

Low Birth Weight

By: Sadaf Ahmad

ArcGIS is a cloud-based mapping and analysis solution. You can create maps, analyze data, and share. ArcGIS itself has data available but also allows data to be imported as well. This software provides step-by-step instructions and tutorials to create maps at Learn ArcGIS making it easy to understand how to use it. Creating policy maps is essential to solving geographical-based problems. It allows an immediate snapshot of the current conditions of a location.

Figure 1.
This map shows the States with high rates of low birth weight infants via the intensity of the purple color. The darkest state here in Mississippi with a 12.1% rate as compared to 8.3% nationally.
Figure 2.
This map shows the priority counties in Mississippi where immediate healthcare interventions should be taken. This policy map can further be distributed to governmental and non-governmental agencies to address the public health concern of low birthweight babies. The arrows represent the Black to White population ratio so that racial inequities can be addressed in creating healthy outcomes for maternal health in Mississippi.

Last Accessed November 10, 2021

Interested in submitting your own visualizations, email rafaela.villacres63@sphmail.cuny.edu.

Student Recognitions

Ideation and Innovation

Rafaela Villacres graduated in June 2021 and for her fieldwork practicum, she worked alongside Dr. Joshi as a graduate research assistant. The intent of her study was to design, develop, and conduct a system evaluation of an online population health informatics resource platform that would act as a resource for students keen on pursuing a career in population health informatics research, innovation, and training. This study is testing the hypothesis that the platform designed using student feedback can enhance its adoption and result in greater usage.

She used a human-centered design (HCD) approach which entails conducting a user, task, and requirement analysis to determine the user’s needs, and identifying the various features students would like to see. Based on the responses generated a new mockup was developed using user feedback, and the most common elements identified were included in this iteration. [Figures 1,2] Once the working prototype was available, a usability evaluation was conducted on the platform to test whether the platform met the students’ needs.

The elements considered of great importance and value were a list of PHI hiring organizations, fieldwork, and internship opportunities, research projects, software tutorials, information on informatics tools/technologies, workshops, and training opportunities. The system usability scale survey generated a usability score of 77, equivalent to a B+, reflecting the user’s effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in using the interface.                                                  

The population health informatics resource platform was found to be a valuable resource for the student’s academic and career needs. Future studies will aim to conduct better outreach efforts to generate a larger sample size. Student recommendations and suggestions will be incorporated in a future iteration of the working prototyping to ensure that the platform grows with the needs of the population. 

Figure 1. Elements on the career platform
Figure 2. Elements on the resource platform
Figure 3. System usability scale

If you haven’t already you can visit CUNY SPH’s MS Population Health Informatics Program website at Global Population Health Informatics

Student Spotlight

Sadaf Ahmad is serving as the Treasurer of the PHIIRE club and is currently in her second last semester pursuing her MS in Population Health Informatics. She believes this club is an initiative to invite more people into the realm of informatics where providing quality and relevant data for the users is of utmost importance. She cites the population health informatic courses as insightful since they emphasize the importance of health literacy and how data can be converted into useful and targeted information for consumers.

Being a mother herself her interest is in maternal health. With the knowledge and skills gained from the program, she would like to focus on incorporating technology to overcome social, economic, and geographical barriers to provide quality health services to mothers, especially in developing countries. 

Student Blog

A natural language processing pipeline to advance the use of Twitter data for digital epidemiology of adverse pregnancy outcomes: A Brief Review

By: Melissa Ditmore

In this issue of the PHIIRE club newsletter, I will summarize a 2020 paper that looked at publicly available data from 8109 users of Twitter.com to assess its usefulness for epidemiology. The authors focused on birth defects and looked at preceding posts about pregnancy. They noted that in cases of delayed prenatal care, miscarriages may occur before any prenatal appointments, and so these miscarriages would not be recorded in traditional public health data like electronic health records; therefore some of the social media posts about miscarriage may be the only record of some miscarriages. This makes social media a potentially important source of otherwise lost data.

Their methods were of interest to informatics students, including the use of “natural language” data, the annotation of the tweets from over 8000 accounts identified, and how the team determined whether automatic annotation could be useful and when, in part to code “adverse pregnancy outcomes” reported in tweets as “outcome tweets,” and error analysis. These required confirmations – in some cases, for example, the event described was when a pet rather than a person had a miscarriage or stillbirth, and that would have been coded as a “non-outcome tweet.” The team developed four filters to address what they call reported speech or something that may not have originated with the owner of the account because they focused on reports of first-hand experiences of adverse outcomes of pregnancy, rather than reports related to another person’s pregnancy or something else. Their four-level filter successfully cut down the time needed for annotation and correction.

Findings were summarized saying:

“(1) women do report their miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth, premature labor, low birth weight, and NICU admission outcomes on Twitter, (2) tweets reporting users’ adverse pregnancy outcomes can be automatically detected, (3) reported speech can introduce challenges for training machine learning algorithms to detect user‐generated information in health‐related social media data, and (4) our reported speech filter can reduce annotation time and significantly improve the automatic classification.“

They followed up by applying their method to a database of over 1.2 billion tweets, with moderate success identifying another 44,119 tweets referring to first-hand adverse pregnancy-related events, of which approximately 900 were erroneously included. A remarkable point is that units of pounds and ounces were very useful for their study, while kilograms and grams were less useful. PHIIRE Club members who are interested in natural language processing may want to read through the details for ways to address other data.

Klein, A. Z., Cai, H., Weissenbacher, D., Levine, L. D., Gonzalez-Hernandez, G. A natural language processing pipeline to advance the use of Twitter data for digital epidemiology of adverse pregnancy outcomes. Journal of Biomedical Informatics 112S (2020) 100076  https://doi.org/10.1016/j.yjbinx.2020.100076

Population Health Informatics Innovation, Research & Education (P.H.I.I.R.E) Presents

The PHIIRE Club, Dr. Joshi, the faculty advisor, and Rafaela Villacres, alumni, and Co-founder of PBC Labs are hosting PHIIREATHON: An Ideation to Innovation Impact Event to Address COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy taking place on Friday, November 19, 2021, from 2-4 PM. This student-led initiative intends to empower and foster students’ creative, critical thinking, and technological skills to propose innovative digital health approaches using informatics principles to reduce vaccine hesitancy within our communities.

This is an exciting opportunity for public health and informatics master and doctoral students alike to gain experience and training in informatics principles, problem-solving skills, entrepreneurship, leadership, teamwork, and communication skills. With the knowledge gained from this experience, we hope that students can better conceptualize, design, and develop innovative solutions to tackle public health challenges that arise post-COVID-19 and beyond. 

Click below if you want to attend the PHIIREATHON Event to be hosted on November 19, 2021 by the PHIIRE Club and co-hosted with Rafaela Villacres Alumna from PBC Labs

PHIIREATHON: An Ideation to Innovation Impact Event

On Saturday, October 30, 2021, the PHIIRE Club hosted a preliminary information session for the PHIIREATHON: An Ideation to Innovation Impact Event to Address COVID-19 Vaccine Hesitancy to be held on Friday, November 19, 2021. The intent is for students to propose innovative digital health approaches using informatics principles to reduce vaccine hesitancy within our communities. The following information session helped inform interested students about the event, the application process, and the screening criteria for project proposals. Additionally, some project examples were highlighted to encourage all students to apply. With the knowledge gained from this experience, we hope that students can begin to conceptualize, design, and develop solutions to tackle public health challenges within our communities and beyond.  

Below you’ll find a recording of the information session, where you’ll learn what it takes to be one of the ten ideas invited on November 19 for a chance to win one of three stipends awarded: 

      PHIIRE Club Recordings 

Click below if you want to apply to the PHIIREATHON and be one of the ten ideas invited on November 19 for a chance to win one of three stipends awarded:


If you have any questions, please email rafaela.villacres63@sphmail.cuny.edu for more information on the PHIIREATHON and how you can be involved in the PHIIRE Club’s activities. If you’re interested in learning about how you can be involved in the PHIIRE Club’s activities, please email erica.rowe-owen66@sphmail.cuny.edu.

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