Health, Science and Technology Building

An artist's rendering of the new Health, Science and Technology building.
Image: Wilson HGA of Boston

College of Health to Launch Population Health Data Warehouse

The new data warehouse will support the work of faculty in the college, as well as research throughout the entire university. 

Story by

Tim Hyland

As a research pillar of Lehigh University’s College of Health (COH), the Population Health Data (PHD) Warehouse will serve as an invaluable resource for COH faculty and students engaged in population health research. The Data Warehouse will include data, from cell to society, that will allow investigators to develop key insights into the determinants of health and develop innovative solutions to benefit the health of the population. The Data Warehouse will also support faculty from the university’s other four colleges, students and partners engaged in research that aligns with the College of Health’s mission.

Through partnerships with entities in industry, government, nonprofits and academia in the worlds of health and health care, the College will build a substantial repository of data, and then curate the data to make it useful and accessible for research. 

Dr. Halcyon Skinner, Associate Dean for Research and Associate Professor in the College of Health, recently sat down to discuss the role the Data Warehouse will play in helping College faculty pursue important and transformative population health research.

What is the impetus for creating the Data Warehouse?

The idea is that data science runs on data, and we want to have high-quality data accessible to researchers at Lehigh -- both faculty and students. We also want to make that data available to our partners through research collaborations. The data will be organized in a way that is ready to use, or “research-ready.”  There is a huge amount of health data available from multiple sources, but very little is collected with research in mind. There is considerable effort involved in transforming data from the raw state where it is collected, to a form that is suitable for analysis. Our goal is to reduce the latency between having a research question and being able to answer it with data. 

How would you describe the Data Warehouse?

The Data Warehouse is a constellation of data resources and services. It will include everything from restricted-use data that needs to be stored and analyzed in a secure facility, to a room full of liquid nitrogen freezers with biological specimens that could be used for molecular analysis. In between we'll have large, publicly-available databases linked together in useful ways to create rich tapestries of data combined with data from partner organizations that work in the spaces of health and health care. Finally, the warehouse will include primary data collected through projects conducted by Lehigh faculty. The Data Warehouse will facilitate the use and exchange of information, lower the administrative burden for conducting good data science and promote interdisciplinary and team-based health research. 

How will the Data Warehouse be developed, and how will it serve the Lehigh community?

So far, we have a cold room in the STEPS building with non-networked computers for secure analysis of restricted data. In order to ensure success, it’s important that we build the Population Health Data Warehouse as a University-wide capability from the start. There is too much administrative overhead involved in managing and distributing data to individual investigators to try and handle on an ad hoc basis. We will build as we go. In terms of service to the community, we envision that the Data Warehouse will operate as an honest broker of data.   This service will have compliance and oversight responsibilities, and facilitate the use and exchange of data within the limits of security and privacy expectations. 

How will the College of Health acquire the data for the Data Warehouse?

We are developing key partnerships with a variety of organizations that will be key contributors to the Data Warehouse.  The underlying motivation from the partners’ perspective would be that data has value, but that it can be enhanced through the COH’s ability to curate, link, analyze and interpret the data to gain key insights into improving health outcomes. Another component of this will emerge as we begin collecting data locally. As the College of Health faculty launch their research, the data that they collect will also contribute data to the warehouse.   


Story by

Tim Hyland