Rafal Kocielnik reports on 2019 AMIA symposium

Friday, January 3, 2020

By Rafal Kocielnik, HCDE PhD student

AMIA Annual Symposium is a prime conference in the science and practice of biomedical informatics (https://www.amia.org/amia2019). The conference is quite big, with around 1300 submissions this year (for comparison CHI had around 3000 submissions in 2019). AMIA brings together scientists and practitioners from various fields (e.g., computer science, HCI, medicine, bioinformatics, nursing) whose work relates, in various ways, to medical science and applications. This broad scoping means that many of the works presented at AMIA are of quite a different nature. Some works were very engineering-oriented and quite technical, such as a presentation on the architecture and implementation aspects of electronic health records systems that really focused on the nitty-gritty engineering details. Other works focused on purely clinical medicine types of contributions (e.g., involved findings based on invasive techniques, uncommon in HCI, such as tissue sample collection). Finally, a group of works also related to various aspects much closer to HCI and centered around various aspects of understanding users in medical settings as well as the design of technologies for use in such settings.

It was my first visit to AMIA and consequently an intriguing experience. AMIA is organized in different locations each year. This year it was in Washington, D.C. and the conference theme was centered around “Informatics: From Data to Knowledge to Action”. My purpose of attending AMIA was to present our full paper on the use of Chatbot for social needs screening: “HarborBot: A Chatbot for Social Needs Screening”. While AMIA, as a whole, attracted many scientists from medical fields, I am not familiar with, the HCI sessions usually attracted HCI people from many familiar places, such as Indiana University, UW iSchool or UW Medicine. This made my first-time experience at AMIA much more smooth as I could rely on some familiar faces to show me around. Given the overall focus of the conference, many discussions and panel sessions centered around the topics of patient data privacy, electronic health records and increasingly on the implications of the greater use of AI technologies in medical practice. Furthermore, attending AMIA helped me see the differences between “health & wellbeing” and “medical & clinical health”. I feel that a lot of the times HCI studies around “health” are actually isolated to an individual or social-media sharing related contexts and miss out on a lot of the complexities involved in “hard” (e.g., clinical) health context. Also, a lot of the work described as health-related in HCI could be described more precisely as “personal health & wellbeing-being” as opposed to “hard health”. Attending AMIA triggered my thinking around these important distinctions.

In summary, attending AMIA was a very valuable experience, which broadened my understanding of similar, but still quite different, ways of thinking about the overlap of technology and health. It triggered me to think more about the challenges of adoption of new technologies in complex social-technical settings, such as hospitals, and further encouraged me to take part in organizing a workshop at CHI 2020 on “Conversational Agents for Health and Wellbeing” to bring some of the knowledge I gained at AMIA to the “mainstream” HCI practice. I would definitely encourage anyone interested in health informatics to attend AMIA and get exposed to the challenges experienced in the “hard” medical and clinical applications that are quite different from the usual HCI considerations.

Departmental support for this student travel opportunity was made possible by gifts to the Human Centered Design & Engineering Souther Endowed Fund. Please consider making a gift today!