• Faces of AMIA

    Clayton Curtis, MD, PhD

    I’m a cultural translator and kind of institutional glue trying to keep the clinical and technical communities aware of each other ...

Clayton Curtis, MD, PhD

Education: Case Institute of Technology, BS (Engineering), 1969; University of Arizona, MD, 1979; University of Arizona, School of Business and Management Information Systems, PhD, 1994.

Biography and photograph when elected: 

How I describe my work to those outside the field

When I tell somebody about what I do, I guess my catch phrase is that I am a cultural translator.

I’m an engineer originally by training. I guess I would have been in computer science if computer science had existed then, and then I wound up in medicine, partly because my folks were in medicine and public health. My whole career has been poised on that divide between technology and medicine and I have tried to bridge that gap. So basically, I’m a cultural translator and kind of institutional glue trying to keep the clinical and technical communities aware of each other, and trying to use technology and health IT to improve patient care.

Years of experience?

I have 40 years in “clinical computing” – you could call it the ‘school of hard knocks’.

Why informatics?

I’m not sure I chose informatics. It really wasn’t a field when I started out. And to be honest with you, I’m developing an allergy to the word. It’s so overused. Most people when they use the term don’t use it in the sense I do. I work for a federal agency where at one time informatics was basically when you put a computer on somebody’s desk. That isn’t informatics, and although there’s still confusion about what is IS, that’s thankfully not the case anymore.

I chose my field because I wanted to improve life for both providers and patients. I had a theory (which is still an unproven hypothesis) that our clinical information systems can give providers a way to become more caring and humane care-givers because they won’t have to spend so much time with the minutiae and lurching around after knowledge and information and patient data and so on and so forth.

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

End of career? At age 65, I’m probably approaching that point! My ambitions are to make a difference. My practical goals are exemplified by the title of the PCAST report: “Realizing the Full Potential of Health Information Technology to Improve Healthcare for Americans”.

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

My key sources are in AMIA. You go to conferences and you meet people and you get a chance to have some discussions and you maybe get involved with things like the list serves: you get to interact with your colleagues, which is otherwise difficult to do unless you happen to be in a large academic institution where there are a lot of other similar minded people around you. For many of us that’s not the case.

Publications that highlight my research interests

The MISSION System: Application of New Technology to Improvement of Physician-System Interfaces in Ambulatory Care Information Systems. Proceedings – the Fourth Medical Informatics Europe Congress (MIE 82) 1982
Increasing physician utilization of clinical information systems. J Clin Comput. 1982; 10(4): 121-37

A comparison of LISP and MUMPS as implementation languages for knowledge-based systems. J Med Syst. 1984 Oct; 8(5):399-406

Portability of Large Scale Medical Information Systems: the HIS-VA Experience. Proceedings – the Fifth International Congress on Medical Informatics (MEDINFO ’86) 1986

Knowledge-Based Systems in an Imperfect World: Data-Based Decision Support Systems in Ambulatory Care. Proceedings – the Sixth International Congress on Medical Informatics (MEDINFO ’89) 1989

Multi-Facility Integration: An Approach to Synchronized Electronic Medical Records in a Decentralized Health Care System. Proceedings – the Seventh International Congress on Medical Informatics (MEDINFO ’92) 1992

Integration of longitudinal electronic records in a large healthcare enterprise: Proceedings – the Annual Symposium on Computer Applications in Medical Care (MEDINFO ’07) 2007 (Pt 1): 367-71

I’m not a prolific publisher. I’m not a researcher. The reason I included these articles was because the titles suggest my interests. As an MD I started out in Family Practice, so I would say that in informatics I take a family practice approach to informatics.

AMIA is important to me because …

It provides intellectual stimulation, provides an awareness of the wider world, and is one way to avoid insularity by interaction with colleagues.

I am involved with AMIA …

Conference attendance, mostly. I am an occasional presenter, and I will be participating in a panel this year (2012); also am involved in journal reading and mail groups.

It may surprise people to know ...

I grew up partly in Ethiopia and I’m a second generation US Public Health Service commissioned officer. I was in Ethiopia for almost 6 years, from age 6 to 11. I travelled the length and breadth of a very large and very diverse country and it really did shape my outlook going forward. They were very formative years.

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