The Department of Internal Medicine's Learning Health Systems Program aims to advance the department’s mission of leading Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist’s growth as a preeminent learning health system. Our work focuses inwardly to improve healthcare access, processes, quality, safety and the patient experience for our internal medicine patients, and outwardly to obtaining learning health system grants.

Definition of Learning Health System 
“In which science, informatics, incentives, and culture are aligned for continuous improvement and innovation, with best practices seamlessly embedded in the delivery process and new knowledge captured as an integral by-product of the delivery experience.”
National Academy of Medicine

Building the Pipeline of LHS Leaders 

Training the Next Generation

We are also building the pipeline of LHS leaders and investigators at Wake Forest University School of Medicine. The three programs below illustrate our commitment to current faculty, post-doctoral students and residents in internal medicine.

Mona and Wallace Wu LHS Faculty Scholar

Mona and Wallace Wu have made a four-year financial commitment to provide support for LHS work from a junior faculty member, reflecting the Wu's commitment to the department. Jessica Palakshappa, MD, MS, is the inaugural awardee and her research focuses on improving post-ICU outcomes.

Postdoctoral Training Program in LHS

Our Postdoctoral Training Program in LHS is an NIH-funded TL1 program. It is open to fellows, residents or other individuals with a doctoral degree (MD, PhD or similar) with interest in conducting research to improve healthcare delivery and patient outcomes.

Meet the Faculty 

The mission of the Postdoctoral Training Program is to provide the next generation of scholars with the methodological and professional skills to conduct research in the complex environments of health systems and to disseminate and implement the findings to improve healthcare delivery  

Residency Training Pathway: Clinical Scholars in Informatics

Directed by Ajay Dharod, MD, the Clinical Scholars in Informatics is a two-year pathway to build skills in informatics and health information technologies. Residents receive EPIC Physician Builder training and a $2,500 stipend for educational activities and conference travel. Scholars design, implement and evaluate the impact of applied clinical informatics projects.

Program Team

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Thomas Houston, MD

I joined the Wake Forest Department of Internal Medicine in 2019. I had previously served as the inaugural Chief of the Division of Health Informatics and Implementation Science within the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for 10 years. I also served as the director of the VA’s Quality Enhancement Research Initiative for eHealth. I am a professor of internal medicine and the Vice Chair for Learning Health Systems. Over the past 20 years, I have directed a portfolio of federally funded research in health informatics. My research focuses on technology usage in medicine and tobacco cessation.

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Erica Hale, MS

I became Chief of Staff for the Learning Health Systems Program in 2020. I have been with Wake Forest for over 20 years. In the past, I held clinical and research management positions and have background and training in chronic disease prevention, provider behavior change and patient health behavior change. I have extensive experience with industry and federally funded research. I hold a bachelor’s degree in exercise science from Mount Union College and a master’s degree in health and exercise science from Wake Forest University. I manage the Learning Health Systems team and research portfolio, as well as support the clinical system to bring the rigor of research to various quality improvement initiatives. I am passionate about increasing both access to and the quality of health care in North Carolina and beyond.

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Selina Quinones, BS

I am a clinical studies coordinator in the Department of Internal Medicine. I graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in public health. I currently manage several research projects within the LHS program that evaluate how social determinants of health and the use of community health workers impact our patients at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and Atrium Health in Charlotte, North Carolina. I am passionate about community outreach initiatives and closing the gap of health disparities within the United States health care system.

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Elizabeth Watson, MS, LAT, ATC

I am a Project Manager at Wake Forest University School of Medicine Learning Health Systems and a certified and licensed athletic trainer. I earned my bachelor’s degree in athletic training from Appalachian State University, where I worked with the baseball, men’s basketball, softball and football teams. I then attained a master’s degree in medical physiology from Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans. As a clinician, I prefer working with non-athletes and special populations since anyone can benefit from an athletic trainer’s expertise. For two years, I worked in the industrial athletic training setting with rural populations and non-athletes where my passion for rural and preventive medicine began. Currently, I am working on projects supporting smoking cessation in rural North Carolina and sleep in older adults.

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Emily Obermiller, M.Ed.

I am an Associate Project Manager at Wake Forest University School of Medicine Learning Health Systems within the Department of Internal Medicine. I hold a master’s degree in higher education and an institutional research certificate from Pennsylvania State University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Meredith College. I manage collaborative projects between the Department of Internal Medicine and other groups throughout the medical center. I also manage the LHS internship program. My role allows me to support pilots and projects focused on increasing access to health care through telehealth and virtual care.

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Anna Thorpe, BS, NRP, CP-C

I am a Clinical Studies Coordinator II and function as a member of the Learning Health Systems team and the Department of Implementation Science team managing federally funded pilots and projects. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, concentrating my studies around community health and health equity. Prior to joining LHS, I functioned in a clinical role as a Community Paramedic, expanding the role and function of paramedics in the greater Charlotte area. From my clinical experience and education, I developed a passion for reducing health disparities in vulnerable populations, improving health equity, and enhancing the implementation and adaptation of community health initiatives.