Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, January 22, 2010

Strecher named 2010 Distinguished University Innovator

Victor Strecher has been selected as the U-M Distinguished University Innovator for 2010.

Strecher, a professor of health behavior and health education in the School of Public Health, professor of health behavior in the Department of Family Medicine in the Medical School, and a successful entrepreneur, has conducted breakthrough research leading to a fundamental shift in how digital technologies are adapted to support preventative health behaviors.

The culmination of this research was the establishment of HealthMedia Inc. to deploy the novel technology. In 2008 HealthMedia was acquired by Johnson & Johnson to become the health care giant’s flagship enterprise in a wellness and prevention initiative.

Strecher will receive his award March 25, at which time he also will give a public address on his work. The ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. in the Biomedical Sciences Research Building Auditorium. It is open to the public and a reception will follow.

“Professor Strecher has found an innovative way to tap the interactive potential of the Internet and other digital technologies, making highly personalized health coaching, which individuals can employ to prevent health problems,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research. “But he wasn’t content to simply develop and test new ideas. Professor Strecher took steps to take his work into the private sector for public benefit.”

“It’s extremely gratifying to receive this award and to see the results of our research reaching millions of individuals around the world,” says Strecher, who also is a professor of family medicine and director of the Center for Health Communications Research and, until recently, an associate director of the Comprehensive Cancer Center in the Medical School.

“This could never have been accomplished without many other colleagues within and outside of the University of Michigan. It also required the administrative structure of the University of Michigan, which encourages transdisciplinary research and technology transfer.”

Strecher has gone well beyond using the Internet as an electronic pamphlet rack. He uses digital technologies to assess specific health needs, and then creates tailor-made plans that help people make better decisions and improve health-related behaviors.

Strecher and his research group have developed and carefully tested their ideas for many years with more than $40 million in grant support from the National Institutes of Health. In projects conducted at the Center for Health Communications Research, Strecher and a multidisciplinary team of health experts, behavioral scientists, software engineers and artists have earned an international reputation for innovative prevention research.

This highly successful academic work did not, however, have as much impact in broader society as Strecher might have hoped. So, in 1998, Strecher launched HealthMedia, with support from Rick Snyder and Avalon Investments, intending to use the company to spread effective, low-cost prevention programs.

HealthMedia, which is based in Ann Arbor, has more than 170 employees and its programs have been used by more than two million people to date. Some of the firm’s customers include Kaiser Permanente, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, eBay, GlaxoSmithKline, Biogen, the state of Arkansas and the nation of Singapore.

In October 2008 Johnson & Johnson, a global pharmaceutical, medical devices and health care products conglomerate, bought HealthMedia as part of its effort to build its Wellness & Prevention business. Strecher was named chief visionary officer for the initiative. He also remains a faculty member at U-M. In 2009 Strecher was named Innovative Entrepreneur of the Year, a national award given by Health Evolution Partners.