Students and Sustainability Profile Series: Joel Adu-Brimpong

Rebecca Lerner
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Students and Sustainability Profile Series

Joel Adu-Brimpong

Joel Adu-Brimpong wants to change the way we’re looking at healthcare. He’s in his first year of the master of health informatics program at the University of Michigan, concentrating in data analytics and decision science.

For Adu-Brimpong, healthcare is moving towards a value-based care model, in which patients won’t only be treated once during a dire situation. People in the U.S. spend an average of about five hours at the hospital a year, as opposed to over 5,000 hours in their communities and homes.

Adu-Brimpong understands how the changing environment and environmental justice need to be prioritized in order to create a healthy, sustainable society.

“If we want to think about delivering care and changing the landscape of healthcare, we also need to shift our focus from the point of care to the environment,” says Adu-Brimpong. It is through changing people’s environment that Adu-Brimpong believes he can affect the most change.

“I was born in Ghana where people still suffer from infectious diseases like malaria and cholera that have long been eliminated in developed countries,” says Adu-Brimpong. “That’s largely an environmental issue, not a genetic issue. How do we begin to transform environments to optimize health?”

When Adu-Brimpong's family came to the U.S., they moved to rural Michigan. There, he began to see what is now collectively called the social determinants of health — the idea that access to healthcare should be centered around people’s environment and community, rather confined to the traditional medical system.

Adu-Brimpong has a systems level approach to dealing with issues — he isn’t interested in a clinical focus, but rather wants to affect systems for positive outcomes. He previously worked in the D.C. area at the National Institute of Health (NIH) looking at population health management.

“At NIH, I was fortunate to participate in quite a few different projects. [The project I was working on] was initiated by then President Barack Obama and focuses on how we think about genetic and environmental aspects of health. We used people’s genetic information to curate their care and develop new therapies and match different groups of people who share different genetic markers.”

After working at NIH, he decided to apply for the Masters in Health Informatics Program at the University of Michigan because he wants to be a part of the technological movement changing the way care is delivered. For his Dow Fellowship project, he is partnering with other fellows to design a housing model that combines different technologies for low-resource communities.

“I wanted to see how we can use technology in more effective, more sustainable ways, especially to push care into low-income communities. So for people who can’t travel to see their physician, can we do things like distance health, telemedicine, telehealth, remote patient monitoring so we can deliver care to people in those aspects.”

The ballooning costs of healthcare will be one of the problems Adu-Brimpong deals with in his career. He wants to develop sustainable solutions to healthcare costs and mitigate the barriers that traditionally keep people from getting the best care.

“There’s so much that ties into this because the environment you live in can affect you. We saw that with the Flint crisis recently. That’s an environmental problem with real world health issues. I see health as the culmination of one’s lived experience. And if we’re going to reduce costs, we have to take sustainable approaches that are going to attack all these issues.”

Adu-Brimpong’s end goal is in a leadership position in population health management, allowing him to use his interests in technology and data science to create a health care system more focused on the needs of patients.

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