Dr. Yalini Senathirajah: Bridging the Gap between Clinicians and Technology

Dr. Yalini Senathirajah

How does technology evolve to meet a clinician’s way of thinking, public health emergencies, and ease of use? How do you bridge the gap between biomedical informatics databases and the clinical side of research? How does training to become a veterinarian lead to a doctorate in biomedical informatics with a specialized interest in designing better electronic health records and health IT systems?

With Dr. Yalini Senathirajah who has begun to find a way to solve all of these complex problems. As a graduate who started to obtain her veterinarian degree from the Ontario Veterinary College in 1981, she quickly learned how complex a medical system could be, especially when learning how to treat up to eight different species at a time.

Her knowledge and interests quickly morphed from animals to the more complicated clinical systems that plague hospitals and healthcare institutions. This led her to decide to go back to school to obtain her PhD in biomedical informatics in 2006. Upon her graduation in 2010, she had already started developing MedWISE – an experimental clinical system, which allows clinician users to create and share the information elements, tools and interfaces they use, via simple (e.g. drag and drop) interfaces, without programmers.

The development of MedWISE led her to receive an AHRQ R01 research grant to continue her research and development on understanding the impact of interactive design in health information technologies on medical cognition, human-computer interaction/efficiency, and system development. Dr. Senathirajah states that the most important aspect to her research is being able to study the “effects of communication and collaboration. Then being able to fit the tasks of the clinicians to a lot of medical specialties.”

The collaborative aspect was one of the biggest draws that led her to the University of Pittsburgh as a new Visiting Associate Professor. She wanted the chance to work with many like-minded individuals and to have an abundance of support for her grant and research, while at the same time still being able to teach a diverse student population.

One of the major motivating factors for Dr. Senathirajah’s research comes from wanting there to be more “understanding.” She believes civilization should not let “the strong prey on the weak” and wants “all of the talents of an individual to be allowed to come out and benefit society.”

In addition, Dr. Senathirajah considers that people are not always “paying attention in detail,” and it is important to be able to “breakdown a complex idea into very simple steps.” The more people who can understand a complex idea, the more that idea has a chance to grow and reach more people. In this case, MedWISE is still in the beginning stages of growing, but it will continue to mature under Dr. Senathirajah’s careful attention.

While Dr. Senathirjah may not have had as many people paying attention to her research before, the Department of Biomedical Informatics is certainly paying attention now. And we are excited to see what she will develop and research next!

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