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New SIU Population Science and Health Program Aims for Solutions

Published Date:

Offices to expand health care focus to populations and communities

Studies show that health care professionals affect about 20 percent of health outcomes. The other 80 percent depends mostly on physical and emotional environment and on individual health behaviors. The 2016 County Health Rankings showed that 22 of the 25 counties with the worst health outcomes in Illinois are in the 66-county SIU service region.

The new Population Science and Health Program at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and SIU HealthCare, launching October 1, will study that 80 percent and link the practice of medicine with the population-based factors that influence illness, injury, health and wellbeing. The SIU program will consist of two offices: SIU Office of Population Science and Policy and SIU HealthCare Office of Population Health.

“Our vision is this: We want to learn the health challenges our residents face and find the solutions to make them healthier,” said Sameer Vohra, MD, JD, MA, Executive Director of the Office of Population Science and Policy. “This program extends health care beyond the patient visit to improve not just individual health but health outcomes for entire communities.”

SIU joins a select number of U.S. medical schools that have formal offices aimed to provide solutions to population health challenges. “Illinois is unique in that we have a complex mix of urban and rural communities. This is incredibly needed in our service region that has so many health challenges,” Vohra said.

“These programs will assist in the development of a balanced health care workforce and a high-functioning health care system,” said Jerry Kruse, MD, MSPH, dean and provost of SIU School of Medicine and CEO of SIU HealthCare.


The office will study the disease risk in the SIU service area and focus on strategies to reduce health gaps. “Our ultimate goal is to improve the health outcomes and provide opportunities for healthier, happier and more successful lives for the people in our region,” Vohra said.

The office has four goals:

1. acquire and study data to identify disease risk

2. design and implement strategies to improve health

3. formulate legislative, clinical and educational policies to provide sustainable solutions

4. educate current and future health professionals in population health.

“Dr. Vohra’s vision using population science, coupled with changing public policy, will allow long-term, strategic solutions to the spectrum inequities in access to health care and medical services, and of disparities in health care outcomes in our 66-county region,” Kruse said.

The office will partner with existing resources at SIU, including the Center for Clinical Research, Population Health Management and Integration, Telehealth and Clinical Outreach, and the Regional Medical Programs, which have created community and regional relationships in the rural populations. “To better serve the community, SIU must better understand our region, and this starts with better understanding the data and information of our own communities,” Vohra said.

Vohra believes strongly that the answers to many of the region’s health challenges will come from the communities themselves. He says his travels over the past year have introduced him to dedicated, caring individuals who do amazing things all across the state. “I’m excited to engage communities, understand their challenges and move forward on solutions together.”


SIU HealthCare Office of Population Health will use the principles of health care delivery science and use new health technologies to improve the delivery of health care in the region.

This office will focus on six major goals:

1. optimize the quality of care through clinical informatics and analytics

2. improve patient safety by supporting their journey through the health care system, helping them coordinate and transition care

3. recognize and engage vulnerable and at-risk patients using interprofessional care teams and community partnerships

. enhance patient access and experience through outreach, telehealth, and other innovative delivery models

5. help health care professionals and learners practice population health principles and team-based care delivery

6. collaborate with partners to understand and respond to population health needs.

Harald Lausen, DO, Chief Medical Officer of SIU HealthCare and Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs and Population Health, will lead this office. “Our ultimate goal will be to promote and facilitate the delivery of patient-centered care that is effective, efficient, equitable, enjoyable, timely, appropriate and safe.”


The Population Science and Health Program builds on the academic foundation in population science that has been created at SIU over the past three years. More than 30 faculty members from various departments have worked on population health science projects and research.

For example, a 2016 study showed disparities in cancer risks and rates in various parts of Illinois. Even after accounting for smoking and socioeconomic factors, rural southern Illinois had an increased risk for lung cancer while central and northern rural Illinois did not experience this increased risk.

Other projects have included the link between coal mining and cancer in Illinois, upstream causes of childhood asthma, adults’ habits using e-cigarettes, environmental causes of cancers and ways to improve access to health providers.

Vohra, an alumnus who joined the School of Medicine in 2015, said he is working on finding trends, patterns, and correlations in SIU School of Medicine’s clinical data to better understand how geography and demographics relate to disease. Working in collaboration with the University of Illinois at Springfield, Vohra will begin with pediatric disease, but once the pilot project is completed, the goal is to expand to all of SIU School of Medicine data and work with hospital partners to better analyze the health of the region.

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