TTU-affiliated center aims to improve population, economic health

Thad Perry is a psychologist by training, but he’s also really good at finding patterns in data and is passionate about population health.

Perry combined these talents to make his career. He’s now in Cookeville as the director of Tennessee Tech University’s Center for Healthcare Informatics.

The center analyzes data to find ways to improve the quality of healthcare while reducing healthcare costs.

“We identify the problem, we target solutions and we partner with organizations to implement those solutions and we continue to assess the success and the failure rates,” said Perry, who joined the university in December. “We’re finding actionable information. This center is about creating actionable plans. We’re not here to simply identify the problem and move on.”

The center has been working to create partnerships with healthcare companies across the nation and its efforts may make the Upper Cumberland more attractive to industry and economic development.

The Center for Healthcare Informatics staff are developing ways to analyze and assign patients served by client healthcare providers into risk categories or levels based on a number of factors including chronic conditions, life style and socio-economic factors.

It will also warehouse data, in compliance with HIPAA guidelines, from a variety of sources, including insurance claims, electronic medical records and other healthcare assessments to find patterns throughout a region or for a client company.

The center has developed partnerships to provide healthcare informatics solutions with several larger companies and organizations, including Bill Dunbar and Associates, Princeton University and Health and Performance Resources.

Providing these services to others is only part of the center’s mission. It also aims to build companies that will be spun off from the center and located in Cookeville. One such company, Cumberland Health Analytics, has already formed and two others are in development, according to Perry.

“We hit the ground running. We had to; we’re self-supported. This is an entrepreneurial endeavor,” he said. “Our corporate partners sell and manage their healthcare services, while we remain their outsourced healthcare informatics and IT resource. That puts us in a unique situation to grow as these companies gain market share.”

At the university, Perry plans to draw from current undergraduate and graduate students from a wide variety of academic disciplines to help the center grow and to give them real-world experience before they graduate and begin looking for full-time jobs.

“Informatics is all about bringing together medical and health behaviors, computer science and technology, public health, business. And that’s just to name a few areas,” Perry said. “We’re looking at ways to improve health care and lower healthcare costs. It’s quite an expansive area.”

Though the center aspires to be international as well as national, it is also interested in improving the health of those in the 14-county Upper Cumberland region. Some of the biggest challenges to improving public health here, Perry said, are high rates of obesity, tobacco and alcohol consumption as well as the prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes and coronary artery disease.

“Corporations are beginning to look at the demographics and the overall health of a location. For most corporations, healthcare coverage is one of their biggest concerns, so why would you start a company where your employee base is unhealthy?” Perry said. “The university understands the importance of the center’s mission and the Upper Cumberland is a great place to apply actionable information to improve the overall healthcare of the region.”