Google boasts that it can use online search patterns to predict an influenza outbreak before CDC surveillance picks it up. Researchers at the Health Systems Analytics Research Center (HSARC) push beyond Google and see the potential for large health datasets to not only predict an outbreak, but to be able to provide more detailed information about the entire health context of individual behaviors and health systems response.
“Even though we are in New Orleans, we are trying to catch up with a national trend,” says HSARC co-director Dr. Lizheng Shi, Regents Associate Professor in the Department of Global Health Systems and Development. “In some aspects we are leading the trend to use big data to provide better information about infectious disease and chronic disease risk factors, as well as treatment utilization and disparities.”
Shi personally appreciates the power of combining public health and medicine. He is jointly appointed as clinical faculty in the departments of medicine and psychiatry at the Tulane University School of Medicine and has built his career on health analytics.
HSARC was founded in 2013 and is still ramping up to reach full capacity.
“We are still in the early stages, trying to get our infrastructure in place,” explains Shi. “This is a process where we are looking into a lot of data quality and formatting issues before we can do a large project.”
The center is stretching its wings with a local project to understand emergency room use patterns.
“So far, for example, we’ve looked at what kinds of individuals are using ER visits multiple times a year at Interim LSU Hospital. We are looking for why they are the using the emergency room as the first encounter with the health system and how we can really do something in the future to provide better primary care. For example, we are asking whether they have primary care or a medical home,” says Shi. In a separate project, researchers with the HSARC are also looking at the cost effectiveness of the patient-centered medical home, which has been expanding in New Orleans over the decade since Hurricane Katrina.
“With the available data, there’s going to be a lot of opportunities for those in public health and medicine,” says Shi. “As long as there is some medical record system there, if we can integrate them together, that is high speed, high-volume data for us to use.”
Shi and his team work closely with regulatory bodies locally and federally to ensure that personal health information remains private. The IT capacity available to the center develops data models and identifies patterns in large datasets but strips out personal information and meets all requirements for privacy, Shi says.
Learn more about the Health Systems Analytics Research Center at http://www.hsarc.org.