Justin Pegueros took a break from Albany Medical College for the master's program at UAlbany's School of Public Health. (Photo by Mark Schmidt)
ALBANY, NY (August 8, 2016) — Justin Pegueros got his first sense of what doctors do when he was just a kid, trotting after his mother at her job as a Spanish interpreter at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California.
“I remember seeing the patients and doctors interact as my mother interpreted,” Pegueros said. “Even as a child you can tell that the conversations that go on in a private exam room are unique to that setting. I learned to think of doctors as secret keepers, confidants and nurturers — and I think that appealed to me more than the medical science.”
Pegueros eventually decided he wanted the medical science, but with a deep focus on patient care. That’s why the 26-year-old California native chose a dual degree program, working toward his MD at Albany Medical College and his Master of Public Health at UAlbany’s School of Public Health.
The two programs enhance each other, Pegueros said. “In my opinion, physicians should be well-versed on the policies that govern their patients’ care. The public health program offered me ways to influence health policy and gave me a conceptual framework for the health behavior of patients. This will help me tailor my interventions to patients at different stages of health decision-making.”
While at the School of Public Health (SPH), Pegueros did a six-month internship with the Health Information Exchange of New York (Hixny), developing a system to track patients with hypertension or diabetes and send medical alerts to healthcare providers. Hixny is working with SPH and the New York State Department of Health (DOH) to determine how health information exchange data can support health initiatives.
Pegueros was named project coordinator, working under Hixny Vice President Scott Momrow (SPH '97)and with DOH officials and clinical consultants. The team had to determine what information they needed — lab tests, vital signs, diagnoses, treatments, for instance — and cull that from health information exchanges. Then the information had to be coded in a way that changes could be tracked by clinicians.
“If my blood pressure spikes when I see a doctor in Essex County, my primary care doctor in Albany can know it almost immediately and decide to call me in for an appointment the next day,” Pegueros said.
Dr. Feng “Johnson” Qian, Pegueros’ advisor at SPH and the lead researcher on several studies to improve population health outcomes using data from Hixny, said all three parties benefited from the project. “This demonstrates the value and necessity of collaborative efforts across academia, government and industry to tackle major healthcare challenges,” he said.
The Hixny internship ended in June, and Pegueros is back at Albany Medical College. He hasn’t decided yet if he’ll focus on Ob/Gyn, family practice or another specialty, but he knows what he’s gained at SPH and that his internship will impact how he practices medicine.
“The Master of Public Health certainly gave me a different perspective on quality of care — something we talk about in medical school but find it difficult to define,” he said. By focusing on clinical data in his internship, he said, “I am much more equipped to tackle public health and health policy problems related to health information technologies, which will undoubtedly play a big role in how doctors care for patients.”
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