He is 47 years-old. Madeiran to the core, despite his subtle accent; and since 2018, he is principal investigator of the research group 2D4H – Secondary Data for Healthcare Research, of the Thematic Line 3 of CINTESIS.
He lived in Madeira until he was admitted to study Applied Mathematics, branch of Computer Science, at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP), at the age of 18.
After that, he completed his Master Degree in Electrical and Computer Engineering in the area of Industrial Informatics at the Faculty of Engineering of the University of Porto (FEUP).
It was in 1995 that he read in a journal about a position for Monitor of Biostatistics for the Nutrition Sciences Bachelor Degree, which at the time was under the responsability of Altamiro da Costa Pereira. He applied for the job and was hired to teach. In 1998, he accepted a job as Trainee Assistant and eventually, became Assistant Lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto.
“There were many uncertainties about the future. It was not part of my plan to teach in a secondary school. In the enterprise arena the main employers in the computers sciences field were all in Lisbon. The opportunity came up to teach in higher education. That was a field I was fond of and I ended up staying until today”, says the mathematician / computer scientist who is Assistant Professor of the Department of Preventive Medicine, Health Information and Decision (MEDCIDS) of FMUP and in the past, he undertook responsibilities as Director of theMaster in Medical Informatics.
In 2007, he earned his PhD in Business Sciences from the Faculty of Economics of the University of Porto (FEP). He then especialized in the fields of “machine learning” and “data mining”, in particular applied to hospital data. He has been working for many years as integrated researcher of CINTESIS and in 2018 he promoted the creation and assumed the leadership of the research group 2D4H.
The multidisciplinary group comprises specialists from Computer Sciences, Engineering, Mathematics, Economy and Medicine, “calling the shots” when it comes to the reuse of secondary data in health research (with several published works related, for example, to the use of hospitalization data), in the evaluation of performance, data quality and tool development to detect problems and improve clinical coding and in the development of innovative tools for detection and possible correction of problems
In Portugal, he says, there is still “some variability in the quality of the data collected”, which can vary according to several factors, such as the time whe the data was collected, the hospital coding the data and even the medical speciality. He is not worried about these discrepancies. The most important thing is to know that they can exist.
We can not think that numbers always tell the truth. The health area is especially complex with the use of unstructured data, for example free text and images in various circumstances. But I would not say that we are worse off than in other countries. On the contrary, in our country, for example in the hospital context, we have medical coders, which is a different reality from that of other countries, potentially better. However, these coders need more support, in particular from tools that can facilitate coding tasks and that can spend more time auditing real-time data quality. These tools, whether for support of coding or auditing, are very important in assisting coding physicians in identifying and correcting any problems in recording data. This has been one of our areas of work,” he says.
Over the past few years Alberto Freitas has been involved in research projects, like CuteHeart – Comparative use of techologies for coronary heart disease, o HR-QoD – Quality of data (outliers, inconsistencies and errors), NanoSTIMA – Macro-to-Nano Human Sensing: Towards Integrated Multimodal Health Monitoring and Analytics, ActiveAdvice – Decision Support Solutions for Independent Living using an Intelligent AAL Product and Service Cloud and 1st.IndiQare – Quality indicators in primary health care: validation and implementation of quality indicators as an assessment and comparison tool.
He is also a researcher of the project AIRDOC – Aplicação móvel Inteligente para suporte individualizado e monitorização da função e sons Respiratórios de Doentes Obstrutivos Crónicos, which gathers together CINTESIS, FMUP, MEDIDA – Serviços de Medicina, Educação, Investigação, Desenvolvimento e Avaliação, Lda. and the Porto School of Engineering (ISEP), and of the project PHE – Personal Health Empowerment, in the framework of the European project ITEA, which includes partners from several countries, namely Portugal, Spain, Turkey and Belgium.
With more than 100 published works, he believes that there is still a lot of work to do given the fact that “there is a plethora of data” in our country, that in his opinion is still “very underused” and that certainly holds valuable information to improve the health of the Portuguese.
I’ve been working at FMUP for some time now and I would love to be able to take my Agrégation Examination. If I could do that within a year, it would be great. In professional terms, there are several PhD students I’m supervising. In April, my first doctoral student earned his PhD degree.
I have no ideia. That is a mystery. In 10 years many changes can take place in the structure and organization of CINTESIS and of FMUP. CINTESIS has grown considerably and the FCT evaluation is an important milestone. Looking back, we realize that it is very difficult to predict the future, even in the area of Exact Sciences. Of course, I hope to continue my research work and I want to have an increasingly strong group, namely in Data Quality, Data Governance, Business Intelligence, in different methodological aspects, and also in the area of Artificial Intelligence. I do not know if it will be 10 years from now or 20 years from now, but Artificial Intelligence will bring about a paradigm shift at various levels, both in research and teaching, and we will be involved in that, for sure.
Life beyond research
I do not have much free time, but when I do I like to play sports, particularly jogging, alone or with friends; I’ve been jogging for a few years and I’ve already run some marathons (I hope to run again in the Marathon of Porto, in November). I also like to read, to go for a walk, to travel, to listen to music, to watch movies or TV series (with an increasingly extensive list of series to watch) and, of course, to be with family and friends.