University of Michigan School of Information
Faces of UMSI: Yihan Li
“I want to be in a position of leadership where I can make tangible improvement to how people can use technology for their health,” says Yihan Li, second-year Master of Health Informatics student.
That mission drives her current work building people’s digital skills and making it easier for them to use technology for their health and well-being.
As a virtual care intern, she’s clearing common barriers to digital health care, or the intersection between technology and health care. Digital health care includes innovations like telemedicine, electronic communication between patients and providers, mobile health apps, electronic health records and wearable medical devices.
“Right now, a lot of young people are embracing virtual health care options,” she says. “Meanwhile, older adults and people without affordable access to devices and the internet could really benefit from this technological advancement, yet they are the ones most often left behind.”
Yihan went to the University of Portland for her undergraduate degree, envisioning a future helping people as a doctor. But after struggling with organic chemistry, she switched to a business major with the intention of going into health care management.
Her next move was to find a master’s program that combined her interests in public health and business. Yihan came to the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 2019 to pursue a master's in health services administration.
With the emergence of COVID-19, she soon found herself pulled in a new direction.
“During the pandemic, our class content started shifting,” she says. “A lot of questions and issues arose surrounding virtual care and people’s access to technology, and how that affected their COVID outcomes, especially for older adults.”
She became interested in how information technology can be used to address complex challenges in health care. She dual-enrolled in the Master of Health Informatics (MHI) program to gain understanding of how people interact with technology for their health, what hinders them, and how data can help inform more equitable and inclusive digital health care experiences.
I want to go into digital health care because I honestly believe that it is the future of health care for the general population.
Yihan values the MHI program’s curricular freedom, an asset for students who know what kind of niche they’d like to take up within health care.
For Yihan, that niche is technology management.
“I aim to lead teams who work directly with information technology and web and user experience design,” she says. “I want to create concepts and implement them without being too hands-on with computers. That’s how I’m tailoring this experience for myself: more management and understanding technology, less hard-core coding.”
She’s looking forward to spending her second year in the program taking classes on health data analysis, data visualization and project management.
The MHI degree is jointly offered by the University of Michigan School of Information (UMSI), School of Public Health (SPH) and Medical School. In order to effectively tailor the MHI experience, Yihan recommends students use their enrollment within all three schools to their greatest advantage.
“We have access to all of their resources, all of their mentorship,” Yihan says. She’s found speaking with UMSI career advisors helpful while navigating her internship search, especially after taking full advantage of professional development courses through SPH.
That’s how she built the online presence and confidence to leverage multiple internship offers, ultimately landing her “perfect” role for the summer of 2022: virtual care intern with Boston-based Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA).
Teaching technology for health and well-being
While the health care industry is comparatively slow to implement new technologies, some people — especially older adults and people without affordable access to technology — still struggle to keep up with innovations like e-visits and patient portals.
Yihan is working toward solving this problem by developing a print-based curriculum with CCA. It covers how to use the internet and digital health care tools, plus how to procure affordable internet and devices.
The curriculum also emphasizes how people can use technology to support their well-being. They learn how to order healthy groceries, manage chronic conditions, video call friends and family, and play games.
“I think getting patients familiar with technology outside the virtual care environment is very important, because if we only teach one thing and they don’t know how to do anything else with technology, the lesson is not going to stick,” Yihan says.
Her role as graduate student staff assistant (GSSA) with UMSI’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Office parallels her work supporting health care equity.
“It’s very similar work in a different environment,” she says. “It has been an amazing experience getting to know peers, faculty and staff, and learning how all their efforts come together.”
“I want everyone involved in digital health care — patients and providers — to see the benefit and to enjoy it,” Yihan says. “I don’t yet know what that’s going to look like, but I’m here to find out.”