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Yong Choi: Improving Patient Health With Technology

Driven by personal experience with the US health care system, Research Assistant Yong Choi is working to improve the health information management of older adults with NWCPHP's SOARING project.
Yong Choi: Improving Patient Health With Technology

Yong and his wife Jina biking at Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Driven by personal experience with the US health care system, Research Assistant Yong Choi is working to improve the health information management of older adults with NWCPHP's SOARING project.

July 7, 2016

For NWCPHP Research Assistant Yong Choi, MPH, the United States represented an exciting adventure—a chance to explore life beyond his home in Seoul, South Korea. After starting what he calls his "academic career" in Korea as an English Literature major, Yong was given the opportunity to live and study in the US through a student exchange program with Mississippi State University (MSU).

"After studying abroad for a year, I realized that this is where I wanted to be; I wanted to be in the United States," said Yong. He applied and was accepted as a transfer student at MSU, changing his major to computer science. With a laugh, he recalls: "I knew after studying for a year in the US, that English Literature wouldn't be very helpful. I wanted to learn something new, so I made my transition to computer science."

Next, Yong recalls, his "adventurous spirit came out" leading him to transfer to Texas A&M to explore yet another part of the US and finish his studies. At the time, the experience was a big change. "Thinking about it now, both Mississippi State and Texas A&M are in relatively small cities, but in the moment, I felt like wow, this is great!" said Yong.

Flourishing at his new school and with only a semester left to go, Yong suddenly found himself battling hyperthyroidism, a condition in which too much thyroid hormone is produced affecting the body's metabolic functions.

"It was my first experience with the US health care system," said Yong. "In a small city such as College Station, I was told I'd have to wait three months to see an endocrinologist. It was really shocking, learning that I'd have to wait that long. I decided to take a break and go back to Korea to get treated." Back home in South Korea, it didn't take long for him to gain access to the medical services he needed. He decided to stay with family and began teaching English, even starting a podcast about teaching English on the side.

As the years trickled by, Yong knew he wanted to return to the US and finish his undergraduate degree. With first-hand experience of a broken US health care system, he was passionate about not only finishing his degree, but pursuing his newfound interest in public health and health care. After graduating with his computer science degree, Yong returned to Texas A&M for his Masters of Public Health in Health Policy and Management and is currently enrolled in the University of Washington's PhD program in Biomedical and Health Informatics.

"My motivation for going into public health relates to my frustration and personal experience of trying to access medical care," he explained. "I want to know how information and communication technology can help our broken health care system."

Now, as a Research Assistant at NWCPHP, Yong helps sift through and find key patterns and connections in data for the SOARING (Studying Older Adults and Researching their Information Needs and Goals) project. SOARING is looking at how older adults manage their health information, which can include everything from discharge notes to visit summary notes, information about medications and more. Now in year three of a five year project, the team is working to identify current barriers and facilitators to information management. The ultimate goal is to create a system which can help older adults more easily organize, see, and find their personal health information when they need it.

Yong, who joined the program last year, has enjoyed the variety of work and being able to connect with the study participants through follow up phone calls. He said, "I always love working with older adults. In my other project for my PhD program, I'm also working on a study that looks at how technology can support the health needs of this specific population."

Yong with BomiOutside of work, Yong is deeply involved in his church community. He enjoys holding Bible study and providing support to new undergraduates who are just starting college. While in between degree programs, Yong dedicated a year to volunteer at his church, teaching Korean to second-generation Korean children born in the US and taking on the role of vice-principal. "The school was very small, with only a handful of dedicated people, so you move up fast," joked Yong.

Yong also enjoys spending time with his wife, Jina, and their rescue cat, Bomi. "I love the nature here," said Yong. "My wife and I enjoy hiking and having picnics at Green Lake. We just purchased bicycles for the first time. Since we're beginners, we bring our bikes to the park to ride, but in a few years, maybe you'll see me riding downtown or on the Burke-Gilman trail."

When he's not volunteering or enjoying Seattle, Yong likes to play Go, a game he learned when he was a child. His interest in the game renewed after watching Google's artificial intelligence program, AlphaGo, play real grandmasters. In the summer, his family will be visiting him in the US for the very first time. Yong plans to show them around Seattle and take them on a trip to the Canadian Rockies.


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