The Journal of Medical Internet Research (JMIR) is pleased to announce the appointment of Rita Kukafka, DrPH, MA, FACMI, as Co-Editor-in-Chief.
Dr Kukafka is a Professor of Biomedical Informatics and Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University, the Director of the Laboratory for Precision Prevention, and the Principal Investigator of three randomized controlled trials funded by the National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society.
To provide an introduction to the JMIR community, Dr Kukafka took some time to answer a few questions.
What intrigues you most about your new role with JMIR?
In my role as Co-Editor-in-Chief, I intend to build upon the foundation of excellence and innovation that established JMIR as the premier journal for digital medicine and health care. I view digital technologies within a broad sociocultural context, and I believe in the enormous power of digital technologies to transform health care and population health. The global COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for digital transformation, turning necessity into invention. I am pleased to embrace my new role as we collectively steer this course of digital transformation toward a future of health optimization and equity in a post-COVID world.
Could you share a little about your background in research?
I received my master’s degree in Public Health from New York University and a doctorate in Public Health from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. Following my doctoral study, I completed a National Library of Medicine (NLM) post-doctoral fellowship, received a second master’s degree in Biomedical Informatics, and was appointed to my faculty position at Columbia University in 2001. With over 20 years of continuous NIH funding, I have applied my training and expertise in public health, social sciences, and informatics to develop decision aids, data communication approaches, portals for community engagement, usability, and mixed methods evaluations to study implementation and outcomes. My research program also includes community-engaged health informatics. I was one of the first researchers to articulate the importance of embedding community and social influence in consumer health informatics applications, and not merely tailoring it to cultural and literacy aspects of individuals. I have also been in the vanguard of professional preparation and workforce development. As a leader in advancing public health informatics, I served on the Institute of Medicine (IOM) committee to identify informatics as an area of critical importance to public health education. I have been recognized for my work in curriculum design and training leadership and awarded two federal grants from the National Office of Health Information Technology (ONC) to develop national curricula for health IT curriculum and training health professionals.
What is the major focus of your research currently?
A major focus of my research is the development of decision-support tools that promote an understanding of breast cancer risk and risk-aligned breast cancer management decisions in ethnically diverse populations for cancer prevention. Population-level data continues to become more available through computational and data science efforts, but for specific individuals, that may not be enough to provide clear guidance on critical risk-aligned decisions that can prevent cancer before it starts. My work emphasizes the importance of implementing genomic medicine in the clinical practice of minority-serving physicians, since these providers are less likely to identify patients at high risk of breast cancer and order genetic testing. Another emerging area in my lab is integration of patient-generated health data with EHR data. Providing accurate predictive models and decision support requires dealing with two critical issues—data quality and missing data. Missing or incorrect data about race and family history is an issue with EHR data, and those combined with genetic, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics are essential factors for risk-aligned prevention plans for individuals to make their own informed decisions. I am fortunate that members of my lab are exceptionally talented, devoted, and interdisciplinary. They come from the Medical School, the Cancer Center, Data Science, and the School of Public Health.
In your career thus far, what do you feel were your most significant research challenges and your greatest research accomplishments?
I can identify two significant research challenges. The first is reaching ethnically and racially diverse populations with informatics solutions designed to improve health outcomes and decision making. This mission has always been important to me because these populations, for a variety of reasons, are most likely to get left behind as technology continues to become central in health care. The second challenge is working across several disciplines. I have always considered applied informatics and digital interventions to consist of several core component sciences. My research has recognized that innovative thought arises when discoveries in other disciplines are adopted and applied. The nature of this multidisciplinary work is a process with unique challenges, not the least of which is to understand perspectives, concepts, and even basic sublanguages that are unique to each discipline.
How would you describe JMIR to researchers thinking about submitting to the journal?
JMIR is the world-leading digital health journal. It has been at the forefront of the field of digital health introducing such terms such as “eHealth,” “infodemiology”, and more recently,“infodemic” into the lexicon. As one of the first open-access publishers in the world, JMIR Publications has given researchers the voice to promote innovation and disseminate scholarly work to a broad audience, and I have always been impressed with the quality and influence of articles published in JMIR. The transformation of technological solutions, digital health, and telemedicine are burgeoning in the wake of COVID-19, and JMIR continues to innovate to expand the impact of this research worldwide.