SYN, Payers

Insights on big data from Optum Technology’s first Technical Fellow

In a Q&A, Optum Technology’s Kerrie Holley discuses the potential of big data in healthcare, some of the barriers to adoption what can be done to win back the trust of patients.

Abstract 3D network in future

Kerrie Holley has had a storied career in the technology industry spending nearly three decades at IBM before moving to Cisco as a chief technology officer focused on advancing the company’s analytics and automation software platform

In 2016, he became the first Technical Fellow for UnitedHealthcare Group’s Optum division, responsible for steering strategy in emerging technologies like AI and machine learning, genomics and blockchain.

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MedCity News met with Holley during a recent trip to San Francico to discuss the potential of big data in healthcare, some of the barriers to adoption what can be done to win back the trust of patients.

This exchange has been lightly edited for content and clarity.

MedCity: What was the transition like moving from the traditional tech industry into healthcare?

Holley: It’s interesting because I’m working at a level that sees the shortfalls, sees the gaps and believes very strongly that we can make a difference with technology. So from that side of the fence, it’s very similar to tech companies. The big difference is because we’re embedded in the healthcare system, we actually know the warts. We actually know the obstacles and we know what’s gravity and what’s not gravity. Bcause we have actuaries, clinicians and technologists like myself, we can operate as a holistic team. 

Kerrie Holley

MedCity: The idea of using data to improve health outcomes is not a new one, but what are the technological advances that have made its use more effective?

Holley: You have the intersection of the Spring of AI, which has been deep learning. So deep learning has been the most significant advancement and it’s not that the computer science or the math is new. It’s been with us since the 1950s. But what’s different is that we have the computing power with GPUs, we have back propagation to prove that we can actually make these deep neural networks do more discovery than we can do with a human brain.

MedCity: How are you thinking about the challenges around interoperability and the difficulties in integrating and effectively using these disparate data sources?

Holley: Our point of view is that this is a challenge that organizations in the healthcare system really need to address.It’s not purely a technology solution where you can come in and expose everything as an API. So we’ve been attacking this problem by problem. One example is the work we’ve done with blockchain which is a simple, arguably low hanging fruit to allow people in the network to to accelerate their claim processing by not having these coding errors.

MedCity: What are some of the other braking mechanisms in being able to glean insights from the wealth of data, is storage an issue?

Holley: We’re going to see the volume of data increase tremendously over time, but to be blunt the cost of storing this data is not that significant. What’s really important is that we have the mechanisms to curate it quickly.This is where deep learning is going to really pay dividends.

In our case we’re talking about prescription data, we’re talking about claims data, we’re talking about clinician data. And very soon we’re going to be talking about behavioral data that comes from various devices.There’s a lot of studies that demonstrate that with clinician data we can have X percent on your health outcomes. If we add in genomics we can bump that by maybe 30 percent. If we add in behavioral data, suddenly we can get that to a pretty significant number. We’re not there yet, but that’s the future.

MedCity: Isn’t that utopian ideal sort of dependent on how you can get people to share their data, which may be difficult because of the lack of trust between patients and their health plans?

Holley: During the early days of the the Affordable Care Act, we made a public statement that we were going to keep the consumer protection aspects of the ACA regardless of the Supreme Court decision. I think that establishing trust with  your customer base is important and I think one of the ways you do that is making these public statements that are consumer-centric. It’s no different than on the social media side where you have companies that come out with public statements about what they’re doing with your data. I think if we look at intervention and more importantly prevention and we can start demonstrating that we can make you healthier the more data you give us and put a firewall between that and your insurance, that’s the beginning of developing trust.

MedCity: Are there any areas where people are over-hyping the potential of AI in healthcare?

Holley: I actually don’t see areas where it won’t bear fruit. What concerns me is the time. In the industry as a whole you’re beginning to see promises that make it seem that this is coming tomorrow. I think that’s a problem because it creates an atmosphere where you you end up in a trough of disillusionment because the promises are not fulfilled.

Photo: from2015, Getty Images