Amar K. Das, MD, PhD

Current affiliation: Director, Collaboratory for Healthcare and Biomedical Informatics, Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Associate Professor of The Dartmouth Institute, Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Education: BA, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL; MD, PhD, Stanford University, Stanford, CA

How I describe my work to those outside the field …

I tell people that I develop new computer algorithms that can help clinicians and researchers make sense of vast amounts of data. These data are being generated every day by electronic health records and scientific experiments. One of the big challenges is finding hidden patterns in data that reveal how factors over time relate to each other and affect outcome, so I focus on a lot on machine learning and data mining techniques that deal with time. I also develop computer technologies that deliver this knowledge back into practice to help clinicians and patients make better decisions.

Years of experience …

I have been in the field for about 20 years.

Why informatics?

Informatics is a very exciting interdisciplinary field that builds upon computer science, engineering, cognitive science, social sciences, and biostatistics, and gives us a broad intellectual framework to really think about how to develop better computer technologies, to design them, test and implement them. Having this intellectual framework is important given how complex the healthcare and scientific environments are in which we are putting the software and technology.

What are your ambitions? At the end of your career what do you hope to have accomplished?

I’m very excited right now to be starting a new academic and research program in biomedical informatics at Dartmouth. The program is called the Collaboratory for Healthcare and Biomedical Informatics. We are in the process of hiring faculty, and providing educational opportunities. These efforts will evolve over several years into a new department.

In my current work with colleagues at Dartmouth in health policy and epidemiology through the Collaboratory, I’m hoping to accomplish a whole new informatics solution to broaden the capacity for comparative effectiveness research, looking at how effective different treatments are in clinical practice rather than just in research studies.

These efforts will make possible the idea of a rapid learning health system. That’s the big vision I want to reach at the end of my career, where we are collecting data on patient care locally and nationally and finding out what treatments are working and how we can make changes to have better outcomes.

Who or what are your key sources in the informatics field?

The major informatics journals, such as JAMIA, are things that I read on a regular basis. But where I see most of the newest topics coming up is in the informatics meetings themselves. So I attend both the AMIA spring translational summits and the fall informatics meetings regularly to see what’s going on in the field.

What are your hobbies? What do you do for fun?

Well, I love cooking. I make new recipes for fusion cuisine, and have dinner parties to try them out. I also enjoy traveling to exotic locations, particularly in the South Pacific, Africa, and South America. I do a lot of traveling for work, so sometimes it’s hard to get back on a plane but knowing that I am going somewhere remote and fun, I find it exciting.

My last fun destination was Puerto Rico, just around Christmastime, where my daughter and I went hiking in the rain forest, snorkeling off the coast, and visiting historic sights. And there is this amazing bioluminescent bay which glows at night time off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.

Articles that spotlight my research interests:

  • Bridewell, W., and Das, A.K. Social network analysis of physician interactions: the effect of institutional boundaries on breast cancer care. Proceedings of the 2011 AMIA Annual Symposium, (pp. 152-160), Washington, DC, 2011.
  • Lee, W.N., Bridewell, W., and Das, A.K. Alignment and clustering of breast cancer patients by longitudinal treatment history. Proceedings of the 2011 AMIA Annual Symposium, (pp. 760-767), Washington, DC, 2011.
  • Weber, S.C., Seto, T., Kenkare, P., Kurian, A.W., and Das, A.K. Oncoshare: Lessons learned from building an integrated multi-institutional database for comparative effectiveness research. Proceedings of the 2012 AMIA Annual Symposium, (pp. 970-978) Chicago, IL, 2012.

AMIA is important to me because …

It has been my professional home for the past 20 years. It provides the meetings, the venues and connections that have helped increase my intellectual understanding of the field and supported my professional advancement.

I am involved with AMIA …

I’ve been involved with several program committees over the years, but primarily as a participant in the meetings on a regular basis. I’m also involved in AMIA to champion the role of informatics in national policies on health care reform, on scientific research and so forth.

It may surprise people to know …

I was almost named America. My grandfather had the responsibility of naming the grandchildren and he wanted to name me America, where my parents were immigrating to from England. But my parents thankfully were able to convince him to give me a traditional Indian name, Amarendra, which sounded close enough to America. So even though I go by the shortened version, Amar, in professional life, my full name personally reflects this great transition my family took from a rural part of India to better opportunities in the United States, including my own success in becoming an academic leader.

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