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How Can Data Analytics Drive Better Health?


In a webinar presented at the AHIP Institute & Online Expo 2020, experts discussed how data analytics are addressing gaps in health care and providing timely, effective interventions.

Addressing underlying issues in health care can be difficult without the presence of attributable statistics that uncover these gaps. Experts Karen B. DeSalvo, MD, MPH, MSc, chief health officer at Google Health, and David C. Rhew, MD, chief medical officer and vice president of health care for Microsoft’s Worldwide Commercial Business, discussed in a webinar titled “Using the Power of Data Analytics to Drive Better Health” how a greater influence of data analytics in health care can work to not only enhance care delivery, but also better prepare the health industry for future health needs exposed by events such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

As Rhew notes, “we realized it wasn’t just about the materials. It was about the delivery of that, the prioritization of that.” A health bot was referenced as a potential tool to improve adherence to CDC protocols that may go unnoticed by the general population. This artificial intelligence system is designed around these updating guidelines and works to distinguish when it is optimal to stay at home and if an individual may be at high risk. Through this data gathering, users would then be recommended to certain services, such as telehealth appointments, in a process Rhew described as a “technological handoff.”

DeSalvo, who had served as an acting assistant secretary for HHS during the Ebola epidemic, highlighted that while the current pandemic is incomparable with those of the past, the same essential services are needed during these events.

“I think what I learned in prior crises is applicable here, which is that there’s nothing really more important in public health crises than getting people the right information at the right time so they can not only take care of themselves, but be a part of the broader community effort,” said DeSalvo.

DeSalvo said that providing viable information to the public on the COVID-19 pandemic has been a chief focus for Google, with the company providing links via their home search page, YouTube, and in Google Maps.

After Rhew spoke on his experience in handling pandemics as an infectious disease specialist, DeSalvo expanded on this by referencing the HIV era. DeSalvo discussed how in many cases it is not solely the novel disease that impacts communities, but also all of the related factors that drive health. The Ryan White program notably emerged from this epidemic, which not only improved access to therapeutics, drugs, and medical care, but also access to transportation, food, and legal and housing support.

“You’re seeing a version of that happening in the Medicare Advantage world, Medicaid programs, and then more in the commercial world.…We have a precedent, we know that it really matters as people are very sick, but we also know it matters just for health every day.”

Rhew concluded the webinar by stressing the unpredictability of the virus, even among those who may have comorbidities linked with worse outcomes. Through a partnership with Adaptive Biotechnologies, Microsoft is looking specifically at the immunologic response via antigens in the virus and their subsequent effect on T-cell receptors. As Rhew explained, this is a complicated process that requires the necessary technology to derive patterns of outcomes that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye.

“I think that understanding why people are getting severely ill, how can we better respond to that, how could we suppress that, how can we develop new drugs and treatments around it [is a] tremendous opportunity,” said Rhew.

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