Tech & Health

March 9, 2021

Johnson to step down as DBMI chair

Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI), professor of Pediatrics and Informatician-in-Chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will depart the organization on Nov. 1, to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and Perelman School of Medicine. He will continue to serve as chair of DBMI as a national search is conducted to identify his successor.

Kevin Johnson, MD, MS

Kevin Johnson, MD, MS, Cornelius Vanderbilt Professor and chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics (DBMI), professor of Pediatrics, and Informatician-in-Chief at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will depart the organization on Nov. 1, to join the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania and Perelman School of Medicine. He will continue to serve as chair of DBMI as a national search is conducted to identify his successor.

Johnson, an internationally recognized thought leader, developer and evaluator of clinical information technology, has made substantial contributions toward VUMC’s international dominance in the application of information technology into patient care, and in the field of biomedical informatics.

A defining example of Johnson’s leadership was during his time as Chief Informatics Officer, when he led HealthIT during VUMC’s transition from legacy clinical information technology (StarPanel) to the EPIC-based clinical platform eStar. The transition was a multiyear effort touching essentially all aspects of the organization and culminating in a highly successful Nov. 2, 2017, “Go Live” launch. The size and scale of eStar’s implementation represent the most significant infrastructure change in the Medical Center’s history.

Johnson is widely known for his expertise in clinical informatics, with research in e-prescribing, medication safety, computer-based documentation and health information exchange, and a focus on pediatrics. He has the distinction of having produced a feature-length documentary about health information exchange that has been screened at the Nashville Film Festival.

As a member of the LGBTQ and African American communities, Johnson has been a visible presence in VUMC’s efforts to increase diversity and inclusion and has marked a number of important milestones for a Medical Center senior leader.

He was the second African American to be named chair of a Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) academic department when he was appointed to lead the DBMI. He has volunteered his time in numerous ways, such as through efforts to recruit and mentor faculty, residents and students who are underrepresented in medicine. Most recently, he has encouraged members of the African American community to vaccinate themselves against COVID-19.

Johnson will join the University of Pennsylvania as a Penn Integrates Knowledge University Professor, Vice President for Applied Informatics in the University of Pennsylvania Health System and director of a new center combining applied informatics, communication and equitable innovations that improve health care.

He will have faculty appointments in the Departments of Pediatrics and Informatics with the Perelman School of Medicine, as well as the Department of Computer Science within the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

Johnson also will join the faculty at the Annenberg School for Communication to pursue his passion for the communication of science. He will serve as a Distinguished Research Fellow at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and will be a Senior Scientist in the Annenberg Creative Message Effects Lab.

“Dr. Johnson has had a remarkable impact on the Medical Center, successfully guiding one of our most admired and prolific academic departments for a decade while also making significant contributions that have advanced the application of information technology in our health system and throughout our research enterprise, placing VUMC at the forefront of a range of initiatives. He has also played an important role in our efforts to make the organization a more welcoming and inclusive environment,” said Jeff Balser, MD, PhD, President and Chief Executive Officer for VUMC and Dean of the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. “I am grateful to Kevin for his leadership and want to congratulate him on his new leadership opportunities with Penn.”

From Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine where he was associate professor of Pediatrics and associate professor in the Division of Biomedical Information Sciences, Johnson joined VUMC and the VUSM faculty as vice chair of the DBMI in 2002. He was named the department’s chair in 2012.

The DBMI, which was founded in 1993 and achieved full department status in 2001, is one of VUMC’s most integral and prolific departments, and one of the top such departments in the country by every measure.

The DBMI is currently home to more than 100 faculty, multiple graduate training programs and a broad-ranging portfolio of research and development projects that span the breadth of biomedicine, including research in clinical informatics, bioinformatics, pharmacogenomics, systems biology, translational informatics, personalized medicine and computational informatics. The department’s faculty also oversee advanced clinical information systems that help care for millions of patients at Vanderbilt, and health information projects that are regional, national and international in scope.

“Randy Miller took the Division of Biomedical Informatics from an idea to the leading department in clinical informatics, educational informatics and knowledge management. Dan Masys led expansion into clinical bioinformatics and exponential growth with creation of resources such as BioVU. Kevin Johnson led integration of academic informatics and innovation into the surrounding real word informatics ecosystem and strengthened connections among the diverse faculty. It is fun to see how each leader builds on their predecessor and I look forward to seeing what Kevin accomplishes from his new perch,” said William Stead, MD, professor of Medicine and McKesson Foundation Professor in Biomedical Informatics.

In 2014, while continuing to serve as the DBMI chair, commensurate with increasing roles and responsibilities developing and supporting advancements to serve the Medical Center’s information technology needs, Johnson was also named Senior Vice President for Health Information Technology (HealthIT), a leadership role he held through the end of 2018 when he stepped down to focus on programmatic growth and development for the DBMI.

As SVP for HealthIT, Johnson co-led the EPIC-eStar transition and recruited a team of executive directors with decades of information technology experience. Through his guidance, HealthIT was firmly integrated into both the research infrastructure at VUMC and in clinical operations.

“Dr. Johnson’s contributions through his years of leadership with HealthIT helped set the course for informatics support for a broad scope of our health system’s demands, along with those of our educational and research enterprises. I want to thank Kevin for his partnership over the years on the many projects where we have worked closely together and wish him the best on this next stage in his career,” said John F. Manning Jr., PhD, MBA, Chief Operating Officer and Corporate Chief of Staff.

Johnson’s personal contributions and accomplishments have been broad ranging. He has helped develop important tools such as RxStar, the Medical Center’s electronic prescription writing platform, medication reminders and other critical IT tools that were a mainstay throughout VUMC’s inpatient and outpatient settings until the implementation of eStar.

Johnson is a widely published author and popular invited speaker in the fields of biomedical informatics and pediatrics. He also serves in leadership roles and on committees for multiple national professional associations and organizations including the American College of Medical Informatics, American Pediatric Society, National Academy of Medicine (Leadership Consortium) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

He is the author or co-author of nearly 200 peer-reviewed studies, editorials, abstracts and book chapters.

“Vanderbilt has been a laboratory for clinical and translational informatics with no equal anywhere in the world. Our clinicians, patients and administrators understand the promise and potential of informatics, and have been incredible collaborators in almost 20 years of my research that has resulted in widespread use of e-prescribing, text messaging for behavior change and advanced technologies to improve information retrieval from the EHR,” Johnson said.

In addition to his 2010 election into the National Academy of Medicine, Johnson is a member of the American College of Medical Informatics and a Fellow of the American Pediatric Society. He has served on the National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Advisory Research Resources Council, among other leadership roles at the NIH, and is a member of the Johns Hopkins University Society of Scholars.

In 2017 he was named an Alexander Heard Distinguished Service Professor and in 2018 was named to the Nashville Technology Council Hall of Fame. In 2019 he was named to the NIH Council of Councils, which advises the NIH director regarding health research, rising public health challenges and knowledge gaps that call for strategic planning and coordination.

Born at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, he is a 1983 graduate of Dickinson College, in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and a 1987 graduate of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His post-graduate training was at Johns Hopkins (where he became pediatrics chief resident) and Stanford University School of Medicine (where he earned an M.S. in medical informatics). Johnson taught at Johns Hopkins for 10 years before joining Vanderbilt. This move back to the Northeast also will allow him to be closer to his sisters as they care for their aging parents.