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Biomedical and Health Sciences

A new population health data project was introduced to researchers from across New Jersey

Rutgers Center for State Health Policy launched the New Jersey Integrated Population Health Data (iPHD) Project this week to address some of the state’s most pressing health care issues, including the opioid epidemic, maternal and infant health and New Jersey’s response to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies.

Research scholars and policy experts from throughout the state came together Wednesday for a virtual Research Consortium that marked the project launch. The event showcased how the iPHD aims to inform public health policymaking in New Jersey by using administrative data in research to promote a more complete understanding of the factors that impact population health and efficiency of government programs.

“One of the chief goals of the iPHD is to create a community of researchers in New Jersey dedicated to addressing questions about the most pressing health needs of New Jersey residents,” said Joel Cantor, Distinguished Professor, Director of the Center for State Health Policy and ex-officio member of the iPHD Governing Board. “And the Consortium is an important first step toward engaging this community and helping it grow.”

Researchers participating in the project can request access to New Jersey birth data, mortality data, hospital billing record data and COVID-19 surveillance data to study health issues affecting the state.

Guiding the work of the iPHD are four research priorities, informed by input from a diverse group of policymakers and research stakeholders and approved by the iPHD Governing Board. Addressing these research priorities will require collaboration from researchers at institutions throughout the state; these priorities represent the most pressing health and healthcare issues in New Jersey.

The iPHD will support research that explores ways to curtail the opioid epidemic in New Jersey, improve maternal and infant health, assure access to physical and behavioral health services and address social determinants of health. Priorities also include supporting New Jersey's response to COVID-19 and other public health emergencies.

In 2016, New Jersey enacted legislation creating the iPHD Project. The Research Consortium is the result of six years of implementation planning and collaboration between partners in academia and state agencies, led by the New Jersey Department of Health, to advance this effort.

The iPHD establishes a process for integrating health and other data from publicly supported programs for population health research to study health issues that affect communities as a whole. The linkage of multiple sources of public program data can aid in identifying population trends and other social determinants of health and well-being.

Data can be more impactful and valuable when linked across different health or social service programs than when they remain isolated from one another, Cantor said.

Judith Persichilli, commissioner of the Department of Health, delivered opening remarks at the Consortium on Wednesday, during which she discussed how data modelling was critically important to informing policy decisions during the pandemic, particularly with regard to hospital capacity.  “The work of the iPHD project to focus on priority issues in population health will help identify insights and perspectives from public health initiatives that will ultimately help improve outcomes,” she said.

The virtual Research Consortium also featured presentations by Rachel Hammond, governing board chair and data privacy officer for the New Jersey Department of Health; Margaret Koller, executive director of the Center; and Cantor.

“We worked with the Center to assemble a diverse portfolio of data sources to enable researchers to address the research priorities," Hammond explained. “We are launching with key public health data sets, and the Board will work with other New Jersey State agencies to add additional data sources over time.”

In addition to launching the iPHD Project, the Consortium also marked the beginning of the first round of applications for data. Researchers interested in accessing this data must submit a Letter of Intent to Rutgers Center for State Health Policy no later than June 15, 2022. Pilot funding is also available for up to four projects led by researchers from New Jersey institutions. Please see the iPHD website for more information about how to apply.