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DCE Magazine

Mining Big Data to Revolutionize Health Care

Winter 2019

Advanced analytics aims to improve patient care and reduce medical costs in a big way.

Consider how the tech geniuses of Silicon Valley have changed the world, revolutionizing personal communications and entertainment consumption in ways we couldn't even imagine 20 years ago. Now get ready for similar disruptions in our massive, unwieldy health care system.

Simply put, advanced data analytics will change the face of health care as we know it. More accurate diagnosis, more efficient treatments, even custom drugs for each patient's unique needs. Massive amounts of data will be mined to improve patient outcomes and lower costs of coverage.

It might seem like a utopian fantasy, but in many ways it's already becoming reality, said Dr. Kenneth Yale, advisor and instructor for the Division of Continuing Education's forthcoming Health Care Analytics specialized studies program.

“Simple data analytics has been around for decades in health care, to predict and plan for the future, factors like how many patients a hospital can expect on a seasonal basis,” he said. “But that's all changed now. Predictive analytics uses algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to analyze the massive amount of digitized data now available. And it's revolutionizing every aspect of health care.”

Sounds like blue-sky stuff, but health care analytics is actually pretty straightforward. To better understand it, look no further than Netflix, said Yale, senior vice president and chief clinical officer for Delta Dental of California.

It's a highly simplified example, but the principles are similar to how the streaming service predicts which programs you might want to watch.

Dr. Kenneth Yale“Think of how Netflix uses Machine Learning and AI to develop algorithms based on data gathered from your viewing choices,” he said. “Health care data analytics does the same based on medical history and many other factors, a massive amount of data, to determine, for example, which medical centers, doctors and insurance providers are best suited for a patient's needs.”

And it's starting to revolutionize diagnosis — a trend that promises to be far more efficient than traditional methods.

“Analytics can actually diagnose and treat a person better and faster than a physician,” said Yale, a noted expert in the field with more than 20 years experience. “Statistics show that doctors misdiagnose patients around 45% of the time. If you can't diagnose, you can't effectively treat a patient.”

When Yale was working at Aetna, the company employed advanced data analytics to predict with 80% accuracy which clients were going to develop metabolic syndrome, a condition that can lead to diabetes and coronary disease. Many of the clients used that data as incentive to lose weight and lower blood pressure, helping to stave off the disease.

“Because of the analytics, many of our clients adopted a healthier lifestyle, with the added benefit of lower insurance premiums and fewer doctor and hospital visits,” Yale added.

The future of health care

DCE's Health Care Analytics program will explore this fast-evolving field with courses taught by industry experts. The curriculum will provide healthcare practitioners as well as career changers with insight into current foundational practices along with emerging advancements in analytics.

“The specialized studies program begins with an introduction to health care informatics — reviewing terminology, issues related to privacy and security, as well as how to use data as an asset,” Yale said. “Then it goes into a very deep dive of predictive analytics, current trends and precision medicine. We designed it to be leading-edge all the way.”

Students learn the basics of collecting data from a wide variety of sources and systems like electronic medical records (EMRs), genomics, clinical trials, insurance claims and even retail purchases. Then the focus shifts to using analytics to determine the most effective outcomes with this trove of data, a skill set very much in demand.

Consider that health care analytics-related positions in the U.S. are expected to grow more than 24% by 2020, covering a wide and varied range of career possibilities. Currently there are 25,000 open positions in the U.S. alone — not just among health care organizations and insurance providers, but also a booming array of start-ups.

“There's so much innovation going on in Silicon Valley,” Yale said. “We're already seeing some exciting new advances, and we're on the verge of even more dramatic innovations like custom treatment plans for the individual, new types of drugs used in innovative ways, and more.”

Apps are being developed to digitize and personalize diabetes and cancer treatment. There's even a Bluetooth enabled app for treating asthma. “Within three to five years, we'll see massive disruptions through advanced analytics,” Yale predicts. “What Amazon is planning to do to revolutionize health care is going to be hugely disruptive.”

Yale credits the Affordable Care Act with sparking innovation by giving the health care industry a much-needed digital makeover.

“Obamacare gets a lot of credit,” he said. “It mandated that individuals get insured and that every hospital keep detailed EMRs for each patient, creating much more available data on each person. That makes for more accurate diagnosis, which not only improves treatment and outcomes, it also makes the system more cost-efficient for patients, health care providers and insurers. Now we just need skilled individuals to figure out what to do with it.” Filling this demand is a motivational force behind the creation of the Health Care Analytics program, as is Yale's involvement in developing and teaching the curriculum. Finding time to educate the next generation of data-savvy professionals was an easy decision for Yale, who has also taught courses at Stanford and UC San Diego.

But it was a predictive analytics class he taught at UCI three years ago that really opened his eyes and inspired him to get further involved with the university.

“When I taught that course at UCI, I made a marvelous observation,” he said. “I was so impressed by the high quality of students we attracted. They were so ambitious and intelligent, it was energizing. But I'll admit to a bit of a selfish motivation. I saw the opportunity to create a UCI pipeline of sorts — to teach, train and identify top talent for placement in the industry.”

And new talent is essential in order to continue the evolution of this exciting and essential field, he added. “Data analytics is one of the hottest tech sectors today. And the sky's the limit for those who want to take this journey.”

Those interested in pursuing this opportunity are invited to explore the first course, Health Care Analytics, which begins January 14th.

Learn more at Health Care Analytics Specialized Studies Program.