Entrepreneurs at work: It takes more than number crunchers to make big data useful

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I have a great job because every day I get to talk to smart people doing interesting work to make healthcare better. In February’s MedCity News Hangout, I spoke with four of those people about big data.

The conversation included a designer, a neuroscientist, an expert in consumer payments and a doctor. Each person brought a unique perspective and professional experience to the conversation, often from way outside healthcare. It was a perfect illustration of how we need everyone’s talents to make healthcare more efficient and people friendly.

Here are my favorite parts of the hangout. You can scroll down to admire the design of blood test results from WellnessFX.
If you want to know how working with masses of health data has affected each person’s own healthcare choices, jump to the 37:29 minute mark of the video.

Jeff French, head designer at WellnessFX, 1:07 to 7:25

Jeff French

Jeff French

“What we are going to be rolling out in the next couple months, on top of improved visualizations and interactive charts, is our own WellnessFX score. What we’re hoping to do with that is provide an even simpler, easier to understand piece of information that is attached to certain results to give people an idea of how they stack up both to previous test results as well as to other people and to really give a more standardized comparison point for how to improve their results, how to make sense of what the numbers mean and not just see the value of their test results, but get a better sense of is this something I need to improve significantly or is it OK as it is.”

Bob Ballou, CEO of Pay MD, 7:30 to 18:00

Robert Ballou

Robert Ballou

“When we first launched Pay MD and we set up a help desk, 90 percent of the patients who called us said, ‘I thought my insurance paid this.’ We now assemble billing data and EOB data into a story that explains what you owe and why you owe it.
In the insured patient marketplace, bringing EOB and billing data together into a single experience, and not requiring the patient to assemble two pieces of data that they may otherwise receive 30 to 60 days apart is key for the patient to understand. That solves a big part of the general confusion.”

Elizabeth Stringer

Elizabeth Stringer

Elizabeth Stringer, analyst at Axial Healthcare, 18:30 to 24:58
“We are building models to predict outcomes in pain treatment. We are looking at RX claims, medical claims, behavioral claims and eligibility. We wanted to identify where physicians are using best practices to treating the pain.
“What I’m extremely excited about is building models to predict best outcomes in pain treatment. We wanted to know, ‘Can we take data from the claims and predict who will do well or who will have a bad outcome on this opiod treatment?’
“Our next generation models will bring in what we call emerging data. We’ll be mining social media to help us build our models. We’re also building a patient app so they can tell us their pain level at any given time.”

Dr. Linda Girgis

Dr. Linda Girgis

Dr. Linda Girgis, primary care physician, 26:00 to 28:49

“We need to have comparisons and track tests over time. I’m going to use cholesterol as an example. If a patient comes in one time and their cholesterol is 270, we give them advice to change their lifestyle, diet and exercising. They come back to see us and their cholesterol is 220, we can show them the data to encourage them to change their lifestyle further. Or if it’s getting worse, we can make a case that they need to be on medication.

“With my patients who are diabetics, I try to get them to do their own blood sugars at home because they are the best at managing their diabetes. The patient is the best one to know how to make the adjustment to bring that data under control.”



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Veronica Combs

By Veronica Combs

I was the editor in chief at MedCityNews.com. I started writing and editing in the print world and joined a dotcom right before the 2000 crash. I was at TechRepublic/CNET/BNET for 7 years. Health was more interesting to me than the latest version of Windows, so I left for a startup tracking prescription drug news. A year later, MedTrackAlert was acquired by HealthCentral, so I shifted to audience research. The fun of daily news and interviewing smart people brought me to MedCity News in February 2012.
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