Ricardo Cruz Correia is the principal investigator of the research group HIS-EHR – Health Information Systems & Electronic Health Records of CINTESIS – Center for Health Technology and Services Research , professor of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Porto (FMUP), founder partner of three successful spin-offs in the field of Medical Informatics, an entrepreneur by nature, and a supporter of transdisciplinarity who is always looking for new challenges and solutions to real world problems
From the age of 12, he started taking programming courses at IPFEL – Instituto Particular de Formação e Ensino de Línguas (Private Institute of Training and Language Teaching), which at the time was owned by his father. At 16, he was already providing technical support to the institute’s information systems and at 17, he was teaching programming, databases and graphic composition. When the time came to choose a college to continue studying, the decision was kind of obvious. He earned his degree in Computer Science from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP), where he studied from 1992 to 1996, with a project developed together with a professor of Theoretical Physics focused on flow simulation, which is used, for example, in the design of public spaces. He studied and worked at the same time, providing training and assistance to small businesses, and founded, together with his father and brother, the Science and Letters training center, which was his first experience as manager.
In 2006, he completed his Master in Informatics at FCUP, with a thesis carried out in collaboration with architects. At FCUP, he worked as server administrator and even started his PhD studies. He changed that job for a new challenge, the first in the Health area, as manager of a telemedicine project at FMUP, where he quickly became Assistant and helped create the Master’s degree in Medical Informatics (MIM), the first of the University of Porto to comply with the Bologna Process in 2006/2007.
He completed his PhD in 2008, based on one of the many hospital software development projects in which he participated, the project HSJ.ICU – Informação Clínica do Utente (Clinical Information of Users), in partnership with the Hospital of São João (nowadays University Hospital Center of São João), and eventually becoming Assistant Professor of that Faculty, within the Department of Community Medicine, Health Information and Decision(MEDCIDS).
“The field of health is particularly difficult in terms of information management, which is interesting to those working in this area. There is a lot of information, but very poorly described. It is very difficult to ensure that everyone writes and classifies the same thing the same way. There is a percentage of medical classifications that are not consistent. It’s similar to what I found in architecture; the difference is that inconsistencies in health are critical”, he affirms.
He gives an example: “We still have case descriptions and diagnoses written as running text. No one has invented a better way yet. There is no magic solution. I think it will take many years. And it is not enough to invent a solution, it is necessary to train professionals and wait many years to benefit from it”.
Ricardo Cruz Correia was also one of the founder partners of CINTESIS, and with many published articles, he is one of its most experienced researchers. It is in CINTESIS where he has brought together experts from inside and outside the University of Porto, namely from Brazil, to work in research projects based on three fundamental axes: semantics, integrations and security.
According to him, semantics refers to storing and making data available in a language and on media that will make it intelligible to many users in the future. Integrations aim to harness potentially useful information for health care, but that is spread across different equipment and devices, some of which will increasingly be embedded in our bodies. It is a “very complex ecosystem” with “huge potential” but many difficulties in sight.
As for security, Ricardo Cruz Correia has no doubt there is no such thing as a free lunch. “Companies like Facebook and Google offer incredibly good products absolutely free. It’s as if Tesla is starting to offer us cars to drive. Who wouldn’t be suspicious?” He asks. The truth is that there is a price to pay for this use: providing valuable personal data, which is sold to external entities for various purposes. And nobody knows what these ends will be.
In fact, “for these companies, we are either customers, or we are merchandise. This awareness arose only after addiction was created and we were held hostage. In Europe, a very important step has been taken with the General Data Protection Regulation. We’ll see heavy fines on big companies that haven’t done enough yet. It will take some time, but I have no doubt that this will be an essential instrument for protecting European citizens from abuse by European but also American, and Chinese companies”.
In the meantime, from the intense research activity developed by Ricardo Cruz Correia at FMUP and at CINTESIS, three companies were born with the mission of creating innovative products and services in the area of Medical Informatics: HealthySystems, VirtualCare and IS4Health. All of them with the seal of the University of Porto.
“The University of Porto was promoting the creation of spin-offs as a way for the most dynamic professor to compensate for salary cuts without leaving the Academy. I think it was the right view at the right time because there were so many researchers leaving the University. I myself had considered that possibility. In the area of Informatics, we are constantly attracted by attractive proposals. The creation of spin-offs has given us the freedom to take risks,” he says.
The expert says that, “it was common for our colleagues to look sideways when we said that besides teaching we also worked in companies. It was unusual and even viewed with suspicion. I no longer feel that today. It was very important that the University of Porto clearly said that we were fulfilling a purpose. The market reacts differently according to the project. If very sensitive information is concerned, connecting with the University is an asset because the reputation of academics is a guarantee. If ordinary and routine work is concerned, the institutions think that it is not in the sphere of spin-offs”.
Ricardo Cruz Correia now expects the companies he founded to grow and gain wings to fly alone, through other sources of financing that will ensure their future sustainability. “This is a ship with over 30 employees and sometimes it is difficult to sleep. So far, there are no foreign investors, but this will be the natural path when the right partner arises and, in some cases, with a view to internationalization ”, he concludes.
I have three goals. The first is to lead the startups towards independence, give them financial sustainability, find partnerships and pave the way for internationalization. The second is to take advantage of the creation of the new Doctoral Program HEADS (MEDICIDS / FMUP) to inject fresh blood into our teaching and research. We need to train new researchers in Health Informatics and have projects to keep them here. The third is to streamline the protocol between CHUSJ and FMUP, within the scope of the Clinical Academic Center in the area of Information Systems, with the aim of facilitating research and the secure use of data.
My ambition will be to support various entities (public or private) in their growth. In the future, I hope to promote participation in major research projects at a European level.
Life Beyond Research
I like to spend my free time with my children. I do some sport, play soccer with my colleagues, read and watch series. But I don’t have much need for free time because working for me is not boring. I really do love my job!