The Road to Recovery: Automated data science will drive important discoveries and efficiencies in healthcare

Posted by Jon Millis

11.11.2015 10:00 AM

Healthcare drives people mad. There’s nothing neutral or uncontroversial about it. Politicians argue about it, countries overspend on it, citizens fret about it. Providers walk a fine line between providing quality care for the sake of positive patient outcomes, while routinely being incentivized to package quantity over quality. Insurers are customer-focused corporations trying to provide a universal good, while also acting as “rational players” seeking to line their pockets. Patients, meanwhile, are the ones with true skin in the game. After all, as the cabaret of politics, insurers, lobbyists and pharmaceutical companies spins and twirls, what some people keep seeming to forget is that healthcare is inherently about the patient. And at some point in our lives, to better our existences and our enjoyment of life, we’re all patients.

It seems logical, then, that a majority of us – you, me, grandma – want quality care at an affordable price (we’ll ignore some healthcare providers and manufacturers who stand to benefit far more than us from high prices). In a country where many decisions are based on the will of the people, how is it that the United States sees such exorbitant healthcare spending, totaling 17% of our GDP, while also consistently bearing overflowing waiting rooms, less procedural coverage, and less transparency than an alarming number of other developed countries? We’re the leaders of the free, prosperous world, and we can’t even get the system that monitors our very own physical well-being close to right.

Healthcare costs in the U.S. eclipse other developed countries in nearly every procedure.

Like you and like many others reading this, we don’t have the answers. We’re not policy-driven, we’re not experts in the nuances and systematic understanding of medicine, and we don’t have employees dedicated to figuring it out. But we do know that public policy aside, two of the most important things that will enable the U.S. to dramatically improve healthcare “return on investment” for patients are: 1) data transparency, and 2) smart analytics.

Data transparency sounds simple, but as any analytics professional will tell you – particularly in healthcare – it’s not. Data transparency in our working definition refers to the ability to collect, store and access clean data sets, and have the necessary permissions to use them for analysis. This is an issue that goes beyond our understanding of the healthcare and law realms, and cannot possibly be solved in a blog post. Perhaps reward-type programs will incentivize patients to share anonymous data. Perhaps payers/providers will better articulate the potential future cost benefits to patients if they allow them to anonymously collect and use their information. Perhaps patients will be given rebates in exchange for their consent. However it gets done, it has to get done. The amount of public and private resources being dedicated to healthcare is plainly not sustainable, and better answers and better problem-solving capabilities all start with data. As William Edwards Demming once said, “In God we trust. All others, bring data.”

Now, let’s assume we have the data. This is our ideal world as analytics folks. What’s the bridge to our end goal of more efficient pricing, lower costs, better diagnoses, better drugs, better doctor-patient matches? Understanding. The engine for understanding for the past few decades has been a cobbling-together of infrastructure, visualization tools, statistics packages, and smart, expensive business and technical specialists. While some problems can certainly be solved in this way, the explosion of volume and velocity of data will ultimately make this melting pot obsolete. It’s expensive, slow, specialized and complicated. With data sets as massive and complex as healthcare, it’s also likely to be impossible. If I’m a hospital trying to determine a patient’s risk of coronary heart disease, and I know thousands of things about him/her, it’s infeasible to rely on human ability to arrive at an accurate prediction. And how that patient is cared for is almost entirely dependent on that prognosis.

More spending does not equate to better results.

Source: Huffington Post

So if scale, speed, accuracy and simplicity of predictive capabilities are all impediments to an exceptional U.S. healthcare system, what if, similar to beefing up a car manufacturing plant with robots, we could automate these analyses? What if we didn’t even need a degree in statistics, or a PhD in computer science, or even a deep understanding of our data, to pull incredibly meaningful, powerful, system-changing information from our data? What if I were an insurance company, and I could identify the true variables that determine health risks, so I didn’t have to overcharge all of my customers to compensate for an understanding I just don’t have? What if I had thousands of patient characteristics from millions of patients, and I could unravel the most important biological relationships that drive Parkinson’s disease, so that I could develop a better drug to treat it? What if I had doctor and patient outcomes from thousands of different cases, and I could match the right doctor to the right patient at the right time? Even more captivatingly…what if I could do these things with an astonishingly small amount of human capital?

This is Nutonian’s vision in pioneering the machine intelligence market. Through all the noise about big data nearing the “trough of disillusionment”[1], being promise unfulfilled, only accessible to the technically elite and giant corporations seeking to maximize ad revenue and purchases, we have a vision of democratizing insights that not only serves large companies, but enables better outcomes for our local world in Cambridge, Massachusetts, New England and the world. IBM talks about building a smarter planet. Watson is a catchy cocktail party conversation, but who gives a —- about machine learning if technology like that isn’t accessible to the average person? Is that a smarter planet, is that just another weapon for the top 1% of tech-savvy programmers?

Disruptive technologies and trends have pros and cons. Unfortunately, in the case of big data, in the minds of many, the cons have been the first to prominently surface, with privacy concerns, targeted advertising, dynamic “individualized” pricing for plane tickets, etc. But what if this was because the power of big data, until recently, has only been accessible and able to be tapped by the technical elite? By the nimble start-up businesses shoveling out stock to hire data scientists to maximize profits? This assertion is guided by nothing more than speculation and personal experience, but today, the talent required to leverage big data is more frequently found staring at a computer screen in a business than at a healthcare hack-a-thon.

Eureqa is leading the way in extracting simple, powerful answers from healthcare data.

And this is where the whole game may change. “Automated data science” tools like Eureqa remove the complexity and scalability bottlenecks from big data. And that’s underselling its power. This is the first time we have an application that, should you provide it data – sensor data, internally generated data, external data, etc. – it will tell you, without having to weave together 15 queries, how the “system” works. What are the six variables accounting for 90% of the variation in this data, and how can we change the outcome to the one we want? We have an “interactive explainer” that concisely articulates this to you. What if I want to actually see my data, to get a holistic appreciation for what’s happening, and why it’s happening? We have a visualization layer that creates beautiful canvases showing how the data speaks, its underlying patterns, its driving attributes and features. We help you comprehensively understand the roots of successes or challenges, so you can either water them or weed them. And we do this automatically.

We’re not going to solve a national healthcare problem by saturating the market with Eureqa. What we will do is provide a self-driving car for people who want to start navigating an incredibly daunting road. Give it all your data, and it will get you to your destination. You might notice the cost of petrol drop along the way.



Topics: Eureqa, Healthcare

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