Member Spotlight: Tyler G. James

Feature Stories

Member Spotlight: Tyler G. James

Our featured Precision Health member for this month’s Member Spotlight is Tyler G. James, PhD, MCHES, Assistant Professor in the Dept. of Family Medicine. His research focuses on questions of health equity and healthcare access, utilization, and delivery among people with disabilities, particularly among people who are deaf/hard-of-hearing and DeafBlind; these interests include interventions within the electronic health record to improve the quality of care for patients with disabilities.

Dr. James is also interested in the integration of advanced quantitative methods (e.g., latent variable modeling, time-varying effects modeling) in mixed methods research. His research has been funded by the Society for Public Health Education, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, and the National Institute for Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. Dr. James and colleagues were awarded the Ann E. Nolte Writing Award from the Foundation for the Advancement of Health Education in March 2023, for their paper titled, “Competency Focused Versus Philosophically Grounded Health Promotion Practice: Impacts on Innovation and Addressing Health Inequities.”

  • What are your research interests, broadly?

I am a social and legal epidemiologist interested in studying how ableism impacts the health outcomes of people with and without disabilities. My training background is in the social-behavioral aspects of health, health services research, social science research methodology. Most of my research focuses on people with sensory disabilities – people who are deaf, hard-of-hearing, blind, low vision, and DeafBlind. My work with these communities span almost ten years, with the bulk of my work as an advocate for improving accessibility. During my postdoctoral fellowship in the Dept. of Family Medicine, I was introduced to clinical informatics. My hope is to leverage clinical informatics to address inequities in the delivery of care and adherence to accessibility civil rights law to improve the health of people with disabilities.

  • Tell us a bit more about the details of your current research/projects. How does this work apply to the field of precision health?

My work brings a social environmental lens to the field of precision health to understand the complex relations between health behaviors, social and physical environments, and biology in the health outcomes of people with disabilities. My projects right now focus on (1) understanding how ableism and its sub-forms are embodied by people with disabilities contributing to poorer health outcomes and quality of life, (2) improving health information access for people with sensory disabilities, and (3) assessing the relative impact of disability-specific constructs (e.g., language, age of onset, severity) in the manifestation of health outcomes.

One of my major developing interests is cohort discovery and creation. ICD diagnostic codes are inadequate for identifying people with rare diseases or ascertaining the impact of disabilities. In addition, people with disabilities are woefully under engaged in research. I think that the use of computable phenotypes and data repositories can help with this. I’m in the process of developing a data repository and research registry focused on social-behavioral aspects of health among people with sensory disabilities. My hope is that this can be used to answer high-impact, clinically relevant research questions.

  • How is Precision Health supporting your research?

The resources offered by Precision Health and its partners at U-M facilitate the type of work that I am trying to do. The Precision Health Analytics Platform – including DataDirect – is directly relevant to my research engaging specific disability populations. Recently, family medicine clinician-scientist Dr. Michael McKee and I worked with DataDirect to help ensure people who use American Sign Language were included in the cohort discovery process. What used to be a financially costly and longer process of cohort discovery is now available to researchers across UM. In addition, collaborators and I are using the U-M Precision Health member database to identify opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration across campus.

  • What do you like to do when you aren’t doing research?

When I am not doing research I enjoy going to deaf and DeafBlind community events, shopping at used bookstores, engaging in special education advocacy, and playing with my dog Oliver (pictured below).

Tyler and his dog Oliver are seated in the car together for a selfie