MHI profile: Dolorence Okullo

Dolorence Okullo

Dolorence Okullo: A health informatician ahead of her time

Dolorence Okullo entered the Master of Health Informatics program with 13 years of experience working in data management and analysis in Uganda.

Her journey into health informatics began as a volunteer with The AIDS Support Organization (TASO) in Uganda, one of the first organizations to support people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. In this setting, she observed how the constant maintenance of patient- and physician-based record books detracted from the quality of patient care.

Driven by a passion for creating better systems and with only the most basic tools available, Dolorence helped TASO organize their patient data into charts and tables for presentation to managers and stakeholders.

“This was my first time working with data,” she said. “This defined my future and where I wanted to go.”

Due in part to her efforts, the branch of TASO where Dolorence worked was recognized as the center with the best quality of data. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) was able to utilize this data to set up a public health evaluation within the local district. Soon afterwards, she accepted a data management position with the CDC in Uganda.

There, she led the design of a blood bank information system, the design of a data management systems for the evaluation of a drug adherence study and the development of a clinical laboratory information system, with tools such as Microsoft Access and Epi_info.

Her support of public health evaluation in Uganda has been recognized by the U.S. Embassy, which honored her with four Franklin Awards, and the CDC, which awarded her the CGH Director’s Global Health Strategy Award for her leadership in a data quality assessment project with the Ministry of Health.

During her career, Dolorence continued to serve with the Ministry of Health, the CDC, CDC-funded partners and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) program, a government initiative that addresses HIV/AIDS around the world. She most recently worked as a Public Health Specialist for Monitoring with the CDC, helping to design M&E frameworks, data capture and collection systems, and to monitor the performance of these systems.

Around 2009, Dolorence started referring to herself as a “health informatician,” a term that was not widely used at the time. While those around her were encouraging her to pursue a Master’s in Public Health, she understood her true role as that of an informatician within the field of health.

In 2011, she enrolled in a master’s program at Uganda Martyrs University and received her Masters of Science in Information Systems. However, she was still interested in pursuing a Masters in Health Informatics. When U-M announced their new MHI program, Dolorence says she received support from her family and co-workers to apply.

Now a first-year MHI student, Dolorence hopes to hone her skills in developing efficient, user-friendly and accessible analysis systems to be used by practitioners, managers and policy makers.

She discusses how working in Uganda, she was faced with the silos of information systems, missing data and loss of patient records, and that frustration with quality data pushed her to understand how she could find effective solutions to these healthcare issues.

“One of the things I’m learning through my introductory courses is that some of the challenges we face back home [in Uganda] are also here,” Dolorence explains. “For example the silos of electronic health records (EHRs) and issues pertaining to quality of data are also back home. These are some of the areas that have bothered me and that I hope to work towards after completing my master’s.”

With her degree, she hopes to focus on patient-centered information systems that promote standardization around the globe.  She hopes to continue this journey by working with consultancies, government and global agencies.

Extending beyond her service to the field of public health, Dolorence enjoys giving back to the community through volunteering. She says engaging in community activities allows one to build relationships and experience. In addition to her volunteer work with TASO in Uganda, she has worked with Food Forward, an organization in Los Angeles that connects people with fresh local produce that would otherwise go to waste, and most recently she volunteered at a homeless shelter in Ann Arbor.