UCSF Creates Center for Digital Health Innovation, Names Director to Lead It

New Initiative to Help Drive Precision Medicine Forward

By Lisa Cisneros

from left, Michael Blum, Andy Auerbach, Ellen Webber, Russ Cucina and Seth Bokser

UCSF physicians leaders, from left, Michael Blum, Andy Auerbach, Ellen Webber, Russ Cucina and Seth Bokser helped roll out the medical center's electronic records system known as APeX.

UC San Francisco is creating a Center for Digital Health Innovation (CDHI) to lead the transformation of health care delivery and discovery from empiric, generalized, disease-based diagnostic and treatment approaches to the era of individualized precision medicine.

Michael Blum, MD

Michael Blum, MD


UCSF Chief Medical Information Officer Michael Blum, MD, has been tapped to lead the CDHI in the new position of Associate Vice Chancellor for Informatics. Blum will continue to report to Joshua Adler, MD, chief medical officer at the UCSF Medical Center, and now also UCSF Vice Chancellor of Research Keith Yamamoto, PhD.

In his new role, Blum, a cardiologist and clinical professor of medicine, will coordinate and leverage UCSF’s information technology assets.

The focus of the CDHI is developing new technologies, apps, and systems that, along with the explosion of social media, will generate enormous new data sets. The goals of the CDHI are to: 

  • Create a home that fosters digital health innovation among UCSF’s faculty, staff, and students;
  • Study social media and novel device and sensor usage to understand the characteristics that generate “stickiness” and persistent use in the health care and wellness markets;
  • Validate the functionality and accuracy of new digital health devices, sensors, and technologies, and evaluate whether they bring value to patients and the health care system; and
  • Incubate important new digital technologies, apps, sensors, and systems, and bring them to market via collaborations with start-ups and industry and capital partners.

Fostering Digital Health Innovation

Managing Wealth of Data is Key to Advancing Precision Medicine

As UC San Francisco’s new Associate Vice Chancellor for Informatics, Michael Blum, MD, will leverage UCSF’s digital assets to build the knowledge network and information commons that are the foundations of precision medicine.

Precision medicine is an emerging field that aims to harness the wealth of data available from the human genome and research into the molecular basis of disease and integrate it on both a personal and global level with information on environmental factors and patients’ electronic health records.

The goal of precision medicine is to create a shared knowledge network to that will allow providers and researchers to access far more powerful, individually relevant information that will revolutionize health care.

Simply put, the practice of precision medicine would allow scientists to share emerging research findings faster, drug companies to develop more precise therapies, and clinicians and patients to make more informed decisions about treatments that would ultimately improve care, save lives and reduce health care costs.

Businesses are already embracing new technologies in operations and now it’s time to integrate it in health care, Blum explains.

“In retail sales and finance, by using social media tools and through mining these huge data sources, companies understand and can predict everything about us,” he says. “We need to bring those same capabilities to health care. Understanding these data and combining them with genomic and epi-genomic data will be critical in getting to precision medicine.”

UCSF is a worldwide leader in health care delivery, discovery, and education. In recent years, UCSF has invested heavily in the development of a variety of information technology and management resources to give health care providers, educators, scientists and students the tools to succeed in the rapidly evolving digital age.

“We recognize that optimally managing and leveraging the data generated by these resources and marrying them with next-generation data management and analytic technologies will be crucial to the mission of the institution and our future success,” Blum says.

UCSF Chancellor Susan Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, says that UCSF’s culture and Bay Area location are perfect matches for these challenges. Blum agrees.

“UCSF faculty and students are among the most creative and accomplished that you can find,” he says. “Add to that the proximity to Silicon Valley, and you have the ideal environment for digital health innovation. Previously, faculty struggled to bring promising concepts to fruition due to lack of resources or technical or business expertise. Now, the CDHI will provide the administrative, financial, and technical resources, as well as the guidance and connections to create the public-private collaborations and partnerships needed to bring these exciting projects to market. Great ideas will no longer die on the vine.”

Managing the Social Media Digital Deluge

Institutions around the world are experiencing fundamental cultural and societal shifts brought about by the explosive use of social media, mobile technologies and cloud computing.

“While health care has not experienced the full force of the social media revolution, it will shortly,” Blum says.

These technologies will truly democratize health care, and UCSF must be prepared to integrate them into its infrastructure and workflows, he says. These technologies will generate an unprecedented flood of clinical and research data that UCSF will need to manage, analyze and optimize for clinical care, discovery, and education.

“We need to learn how to assess which apps, systems, and sensors will be reliable, persistent data sources, and which will be a flash in the pan. Some of these tools will be incredibly valuable and will change the way we understand and deliver care, but most will not,” Blum says.

One of the primary aims of the CDHI is to evaluate these new technologies and determine which bring value to patients and the health care system.

Bridging Medical Center and Campus Digital Health Efforts

To support these efforts, the Office of the AVC for Informatics will include resources of both the UCSF Medical Center and the campus. Blum will remain in his current post of Chief Medical Information Officer for the medical center. The medical directors of Information Technology for the UCSF Medical Center and the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital will continue to report to him.

person working on a laptop and using computer mouse

In addition to directing the CDHI, Blum will continue to oversee the clinical aspects of the medical center’s APeX electronic medical records systems and, in collaboration with Joe Bengfort, the medical center CIO, will direct the campuses’ enterprise data warehousing efforts. Blum will also co-direct the biomedical informatics program of the UCSF Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI).

The CDHI is working on several promising digital health projects that promise to yield positive impacts for patients, providers and health care organizations. Examples include:  

  • CareWeb: A collaborative, team-based clinical communications platform;
  • GreenDot: A diabetes management open source platform;
  • Trinity: A web-based collaboration technology for Virtual Tumor Board and Multidisciplinary Management of complex patients;
  • Health eHeart: A social media based cardiovascular study in which CDHI is developing a scalable social media clinical trials platform that integrates with the campuses’ clinical and research information resources. 

The CDHI will support the digital component of CTSI’s catalyst awards, which will provide a robust pipeline of future projects. The CDHI and catalyst awards program teams will work with faculty, students, and staff across the campus and with external partners to identify and support the most promising digital health projects.

Collaboration is a cornerstone of the CDHI. As such, it will develop partnerships with both commercial and not-for-profit accelerators to establish an ecosystem of organizations that can quickly develop, validate, and evaluate promising new technologies. To ensure that these collaborations are successful, the CDHI will have formal integration with UCSF’s Office of Innovation, Technology & Alliances (ITA). The ITA will help create agreements that clarify intellectual property interests and create mutually beneficial business agreements with industry and academic partners. The CDHI will also partner with the mobility, app, and web development experts in the UCSF School of Medicine’s Information Services Unit to leverage their technical and administrative expertise.

About half of CDHI’s initial funding will come from external sources through investment and philanthropy. The goal is for the CDHI to be self-sustaining via licensing and royalty revenue within five years.

“While the initial development efforts will be internal UCSF projects so that we can establish the necessary administrative infrastructure and demonstrate our technical capabilities, we expect that those initial projects will quickly expand to multicenter collaborations across the University of California and beyond,” Blum says.

Blum earned his medical degree from New York University School of Medicine. He completed an internship and residency in internal medicine, followed by a fellowship in cardiovascular medicine at Yale University School of Medicine. He is a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and a member of numerous professional organizations, including the American College of Cardiology, American Medical Informatics Association and Association of Medical Directors of Information Systems. 

Top photo by Cindy Chew