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PhD in Personal Health Informatics

Interdisciplinary program of the College of Computer and Information Science and Bouvé College of Health Sciences

The Personal Health Informatics (PHI) doctoral degree at Northeastern is a joint program between the College of Computer and Information Science (CCIS) and Bouvé College of Health Sciences. It combines interdisciplinary curriculum with rigorous research opportunities, including collaborations with industry, medical institutions, community organizations, and other partners throughout Boston’s robust health, technology, and personal health sectors. All to explore the potential of patient-centered health and wellness technologies.

Our transdisciplinary program focuses on innovations that improve care from the patient’s perspective, setting us apart from medical and health informatics degrees which focus primarily on the impact of provider-facing systems. These personal health technologies are used by non-health professionals both in and out of clinical settings, and in various life stages of illness and wellness. We are committed to educating future leaders who will transform health care and empower individuals to lead healthier, more engaged, and higher quality lives.

The Power of Your Degree

PHI PhD graduates will be the scientists and innovators charting the future. They will find novel ways to improve health through principled, data-driven, participant-engaged research that builds on discoveries in behavioral and social sciences, health sciences, computation, and data science driving the advances in technology. They will produce generalizable theories and models that fundamentally change our scientific understanding of human health and behavior, and lead to a healthier population.

Exemplary research and study areas include:

  • Consumer wellness promotion technologies
  • Automated patient education and counseling systems
  • Personal health records and portals
  • Assistive technologies that aid persons with special needs
  • Automated eldercare systems that support aging at home
  • Smart home laboratory for development of future solutions
  • Telemedicine and mobile health monitoring and intervening systems
  • Effective coaching systems based on artificial intelligence
  • Intervention and coaching optimization based on physiological monitoring and modeling
  • Social computing systems that connect families with wellness support networks
  • Social and mobile applications that enable health activism

What can you do with a PhD in Personal Health Informatics?

Program Overview

Our transdisciplinary doctoral program focuses on educating top researchers in the theoretical underpinnings, design, development, evaluation, and dissemination of consumer- and patient-focused health systems. It provides a path for students with technical backgrounds who wish to acquire more experience in deploying and evaluating health technologies in the field. The program also provides a path for students with health backgrounds who want to develop the technical skills needed to prototype and assess creative, technology-enabled ideas that improve care. The expected length of study is five years.

Our renowned faculty provides students with:

  • Fundamental theoretical knowledge necessary to conduct cutting-edge research in personal health informatics.
  • Design sensitivity and methodological experience that permits students to assess healthcare technology needs and design effective solutions.
  • Education and practical experience in evaluating novel health technologies with a diverse range of user populations in settings ranging from the home to the hospital.
  • Background in computational modeling and data analytics in support of PHI.

Skills and Knowledge

Developing personal health technologies requires skill and experience designing systems for patients and consumers with a range of backgrounds, in different contexts, and using a variety of media and tools. And it must all be done while ensuring that fielded technologies are effective, reliable, and responsive.

Our students will gain critical skills and knowledge, including:

  • Population needs assessment
  • Theories of interface and user experience design as well as health behavior
  • Software engineering
  • Rapid prototyping and implementation of customizable personal health systems
  • Experimental design with human subjects in challenging settings
  • Research evaluation using statistical data analysis and validation
  • Computational modeling and data analytics

Students put these skills to the test while working on, or leading, transdisciplinary research projects. They work with teams that invent, design, and prove the efficacy of novel health interface technologies with state-of-the-art computational approaches through a lens of empathy and awareness. The program enables graduates to communicate and collaborate effectively with medical personnel, computer scientists, engineers, public health researchers, and policy makers, as well as the patients and consumers who will use these new technologies.

Transdisciplinary Approach

Jointly granted by two dynamic colleges— CCIS and Bouvé College of Health Sciences—the Northeastern PHI PhD program focuses on a truly transdisciplinary experience by:

  • Focusing on health and wellness systems from the patient or consumer perspective, with an emphasis on technologies that enhance care in medical and non-medical settings, through all life stages, and for sick, well, and specially challenged populations.
  • Integrating a usability evaluation practicum requirement, where all students explore needs from the patient and consumer perspectives in a healthcare context while developing skills in ethnography and design.
  • Immersing all students in a one-year transdisciplinary experiential learning project, where core concepts are put into practice in preparation for independent research that spans technical and health domains.

Why a PhD in PHI?

With national and global medical systems shifting their focus from crisis-response to prevention and wellness, demand for cost-effective, patient-centered human-computer interfaces that improve health understanding and outcomes is on the rise. Experts who are skilled in creating these technologies will be in demand, and personal health informatics will play a key role in the future of medicine.

Get ready to ignite positive, disruptive change in health and wellness worldwide.

The PHI PhD program will prepare researchers to lead this emerging industry and transform the way healthcare is delivered and wellness is managed around the world—especially for older adults, urban minorities, persons with disabilities, and populations with low health literacy. Graduates will be equipped to invent, prototype, evaluate, and disseminate the next generation of personal health informatics technologies.

Who Should Apply?

The PHI PhD program is for students interested in improving health and wellness with new technologies that directly impact people’s lives. It is for students who are technically strong, socially conscious, design oriented, and ready to rigorously evaluate the technologies they imagine and build.

Applicants should be passionate about changing healthcare delivery by using person- and patient-facing technologies. They should have a strong interest and experience in the technology and health domains, and be ready to immerse themselves in both areas through coursework and research.

The PHI PhD will prepare graduates to work as:

  • Faculty focused on transdisciplinary research in departments of information/computer science, health sciences, nursing, and schools of public health.
  • Technical leaders in industry, creating technology with health interfaces that are used directly by patients and consumers.
  • Scientific advisors or lead developers at non-profits or governmental agencies developing or using health technologies for public health applications.
  • Entrepreneurs who start innovative companies based on the research initiated in the program.

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