Jim Warren

Jim Warren, Professor of Health Informatics

I am based at the School of Computer Science on the City (main) campus in downtown Auckland, New Zealand. I work closely with the School of Population Health, particularly with the Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care, the Section of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, and the National Institute for Health Innovation (NIHI). I also collaborate with the Department of Psychological Medicine.

My key professional interest is the transformation of healthcare through innovative IT. This includes decision support for individual healthcare providers, analysis of population health data to guide high level health strategy and research, and supporting health consumers to do their best in 'co-production' of health outcomes with traditional providers (i.e. doctors, nurses and the like). From a technology perspective, enabling these transformations is largely about applied AI, but very much linked with a holistic information systems perspective and great user interface design; plus there are some topics that are particularly relevant to health IT in practice, such as systems interoperability. I'm passionate about getting talented computing people really interested in the challenges and opportunities of health IT; I also really enjoy working with clinical people to understand and try to improve health delivery challenges. Of late I've been doing a lot with youth mental health - apps that follow methods based on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and positive psychology, including gamified approaches and dialog agents that function as a type of AI counselor.

Note that I am part-time with the University. My usual work days are Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Hear me, see me

Here are links to a couple of fairly extended lectures I've given on areas of greatest interest to me:

Coursework and Service

I'm currently honours and projects coordinator for the School of Computer Science. Some useful links:

I'm lecturing in two courses for 2021:

Human-Computer Interaction (COMPSCI 345 and SOFTENG 350). For many years I was the primary or supporting lecturer for our HCI courses. However, since going to part-time and with other demands I'm not directly involved in the teaching delivery. Dr Danielle Lottridge is course coordinator. I'm passionate about helping students with IT capability to pick up the skills to make software that is really excellent from the perspective of usability and is thoughtful, and sometimes innovative, in its design. Our HCI courses teach the skills to design and evaluate the visual interface and user experience generally. I regularly supervise projects and dissertations with a strong HCI focus, and you might see me give a guest lecture in COMPSCI 705/SOFTENG 702 Advanced Human-Computer Interaction.

Health Informatics at The University of Auckland. For several years I was programme director for the Postgraduate Diploma in Health Sciences in Health Informatics, which can extend to a Master of Health Sciences. There is also the option to stop with a Postgraduate Certificate in Health Sciences (Health Informatics). In the postgraduate programme I taught HLTHINFO 728 Principles of Health Informatics and HLTHINFO 730 Healthcare Decision Support Systems. Note that Honours and Postgraduate Diploma students in Computer Science and Software Engineering can get permission to take select Health Informatics postgraduate courses. Although I'm not teaching in these courses (although you might encounter me on a recorded lecturer here and there), I'm available to supervise research students from either Health or Computing backgrounds (and those with mixed backgrounds are most especially welcome!). The School of Population Health also has a third year elective in Health Informatics for students in the Bachelor of Health Sciences.

Research

My research goal is to achieve measurable improvements in health outcomes through innovation in health information technology.

My research is focused on three (sometimes inter-related) aspects of innovative use of IT for chronic disease management:

In 2016 I gave a talk as part of the Gibbons lecture series that overviews a range of aspects in how I approach use of IT to improve chronic condition management.

My active research at present breaks down into two main areas. First, I work closely with the VIEW group on cardiovascular risk management data. I'm particularly interested in the problem of medication adherence in this context (people taking their medication regularly), and generally in how we can data mine routinely-collected records to see more or less effective chronic disease management.

The other main area of project work is around systems that are operated directly by health consumers, particularly in the space of mental health and healthy lifestyle. One major project in this is eCHAT, a screening tool that asks about a range of issues (alcohol and drug misuse, anxiety, depression and others) that can be used in General Practice or for specific groups including young people or veterans. A larger project, HABITS, looks at integrating eCHAT screening with a suite of online therapy tools particularly for young people in New Zealand.

I'm always interested in good students for project, dissertation and thesis work that relates to this research agenda. That said, at the moment I'm near to the limit on number of students I can take on - so, sorry, if I have to decline to supervise you. I'll still try to connect you to a potential supervisor aligned to your interests though. Within my remaining supervision capacity (or what capacity might open up in a semester or two) I'd be most keen to explore the mental health and wellness space, particularly development of tools that apply Motivational Interviewing or provide support for specific issues such as drug misuse/addiction and supporting parents. Exciting innovations are happening in how 'chatbots' and other dialog agents can use neural networks to learn to produce natural dialog responses. While that's working well for some natural language tasks, such as creating fake news, creating a useful AI counselor presents greater challenges in maintaining coherence and providing the right therapeutic guidance.

If you wish to contact me about research study, explain to me what specific preparation you've had and just what sort of Health Informatics research you're keen to do. If I feel I'm looking at a generic letter sent to dragnet for a research supervisor, I probably won't reply.

A note to international students thinking about a PhD. If you're thinking about doing a PhD at University of Auckland, before opening a dialogue please reflect on whether and how you would finance your studies. Please do not go down this path if you have only a vague or optimistic lead on financial support. The University of Auckland has a very limited number of scholarships for international students. International students will only be considered for these (and, at that, supply is limited) where the Grade Point Equivalence (GPE) is estimated by the University's School of Graduate Studies at around 8.0 or greater (we use a scale where A+ is 9, A is 8, A- is 7, B+ is 6, etc.) for the degree which qualifies the student for PhD studies and weighted for the relative standing of the awarding institution as compared to University of Auckland. So if your institution is rated under University of Auckland or you received less than near-perfect marks, a scholarship from the University is not going to happen. Moreover, cost of living (especially accommodation) in Auckland is high, and it isn't possible to earn a living wage while studying full-time. You'll need some external financial support.

For domestic students, if you have a GPA of 8+ you'll be offered a scholarship.

These are some of the PhD students who have graduated with me since I've moved to Auckland

Some of my more distant past PhD students (from when I worked at University of South Australia):


Projects and Groups I'm Involved With

Vascular Informatics using Epidemiology and the Web (VIEW). I'm one of the team of investigators in VIEW, an HRC-funded research programme led by Prof Rod Jackson. VIEW aims to create a comprehensive map of cardiovascular (or, somewhat more broadly arteriosclerotic) risk management for all of New Zealand. It has a GIS mapping component, and intervention components: the PREDICT clinical decision support tool (see publications) aimed particularly at prevention in the community / general practice setting, and the acute coronary syndrome (ACS) register aimed at the hospital sector. I'm particularly involved in the application of data mining techniques on the VIEW collection to improve the identification individuals with a high risk of potentially-preventable hospitalisation, as well as questions of how to formulate the data schema for maximum ethical public-good reuse of the data.

HABITs (Health Advances through Behaviours Intervention Technologies)This is a project of the A Better Start — E Tipu e Rea National Science Challenge. Our aim is to make online support for mental health and wellness a routine part of the secondary school experience, especially for youth who are most at risk including those at low-decile schools and Māori and Pacific youth. We are developing a suite on e-therapy tools, integrated with a portal and screening / assessment tools. My main responsibility is design of the IT platform that integrates all the tools and provides the user experience for young people as well as school staff, and mechanisms for informed consent and randomisation for research trials and de-identified research data. Related to this, I'm also involved in development and trial of parenting apps working with CureKids. Our work includes both gamified tools (modular adventures that teach mental health skills) and dialog agents (more like a friend, coach or counselor). I'm particularly interested in the AI challenges for deepening the capability of AI agents in this context.

eCHAT (the electronic Case-finding and Help Assessment Tool). I've been working with Prof Felicity Goodyear-Smith for a number of years on this tool that allows an individual to answer a series of simple questions that provide an assessment of a range of lifestyle and mental health issues. This was designed to be used at the GP (family doctor) practice in the first instance, but we've been finding a number of specialised applications including for young people, veterans and in maternity. We've implemented a version of the system that is integrated with the HABITs youth mental health ecosystem as the cornerstone of its screening and assessment capability.

Australasian Conference on Health Informatics and Knowledge Management (HIKM) at Australasian Computer Science Week (ACSW). I helped create this workshop and have co-Chaired it on multiple ocassions. This is a great event because on the one hand it's a small workshop to share experiences of innovative computing solutions as applied to healthcare, and on the other hand it's a diverse computing event across the spectrum of Computer Science in Australia and New Zealand with a host of plenary speakers. The conference is generally held in the first days of February each year, and paper submissions are generally due around August or September the year before.

Health Informatics New Zealand (HINZ). I was Chair of HINZ for 2008-2010.\ I was Scientific Program Committee Chair for the HINZ Conference and Exhibition 2006, 2007 and 2008. The conference is an amazingly large event given the size of New Zealand – it's the place to find out what's happening in health IT in New Zealand and gets some great keynote speakers from abroad. See the HINZ conference page.

Australasian Institute of Digital Health (AIDH). AIDH has recently formed by a merger of the Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) and Health Informatics Society of Australia (HISA). ACHI was (and AIDH now is) Australia and New Zealand's peak professional body for health informatics. I'm a Foundation Fellow of ACHI, and was its Membership Chair from 2005-2010, as well as a member of the ACHI Council 2015-2016. Now I'm a Fellow of the AIDH.


My Career

I took up the Chair in Health Informatics at the University of Auckland in November 2005. I made the move here because the environment provides the opportunity to really make a difference - there are so many advantages here with a world class medical school, excellent computer science department, active local health IT industry and a proactive Ministry of Health! I was based at the Tamaki Campus until 2013, spending most of that time with my office in the School of Population Health, but as the University has turned its strategic focus to development of the City, Grafton and Newmarket campuses I have shifted to the City Campus (which also has been great for the central location, and for furthering links with my Computer Science colleagues!). And increasingly I find myself getting a healthy walk over to the Grafton Campus as my links with the Department of Psychological Medicine have expanded.

I worked for the University of South Australia from 1993 to 2005, where I was involved in the formation of their Advanced Computing Research Centre, of which I was Director for a couple years.

I did my Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and PhD in Information Systems at the University of Maryland's UMBC campus. I was awarded my PhD in mid 1992 with a dissertation (which they'd call a 'thesis' in this part of the world) in Computer Aided Software Engineering (CASE) / Simulation Systems... basically I was looking at interactive decision support technology. I started working with health IT as software development consulting work before completing my PhD, but then leapt into it as a research topic pretty much the day I graduated. Other than a few computer simulation projects that directly related to my thesis, and occasional flirtation with online learning research and pure human-computer interaction, I've consolidated on innovative methods for health information systems as my sole research interest. Upon involvement with SA HealthPlus - a large trial of Coordinated Care in 1997-1999 - I became increasingly focused on chronic condition management (CCM). "IT for chronic condition management" is a pretty good brief description of my interests.


Publications

I've set up a Google Scholar profile so you can reach many of my publications online.


Contact details


Last updated: J. Warren, 26-Jan-2021.