Data Science Journalist Nate Silver & Much More, at Population Health’s 3rd Annual ‘Health And…’ Conference on Data Science & Public Action

Wednesday, June 27 2018

More than 425 healthcare and data science experts gathered at New York University’s Vanderbilt Hall for the Department of Population Health’s third annual conference, Health And…Data Science and Public Action, on Monday, May 21. The conference explored ways for multiple stakeholders across a variety of sectors to employ more innovative means of using data to advance population health—while stressing the importance of integrity in the collection and application of data.

More than 425 health care and  data science experts gather at NYU School of Law’s Vanderbilt Hall for the  Department of Population Health’s third annual conference, Health <em>And…</em>Data Science and Public Action
More than 425 health care and data science experts gather at NYU School of Law’s Vanderbilt Hall for the Department of Population Health’s third annual conference, Health And…Data Science and Public Action

“How can people in communities effectively tap into the power of big data and actually move the needle in advancing population health and health equity?” asked Marc Gourevitch, MD, MPH, Muriel G. and George Singer Professor of Population Health and chair of the Department of Population Health, in his opening remarks. “We know that we are awash in data, and we know we have more powerful computational and analytic tools than ever before, but high-end analytics and dazzling measurement prospects do not necessarily translate into change.”

Dr. Gourevitch also unveiled and demonstrated the newly-launched City Health Dashboard, an online resource with community-level health, social, and economic data for the nation’s 500 largest cities. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure,” said Dr. Gourevitch, explaining that the goal of the City Health Dashboard is to enable local leaders to identify and take action around the most pressing health needs in their cities and communities.   

Dr. Marc Gourevitch  presents the City Health Dashboard, an online resource with community-level  health, social, and economic data for the nation’s largest 500 cities
Dr. Marc Gourevitch presents the City Health Dashboard, an online resource with community-level health, social, and economic data for the nation’s largest 500 cities

Other highlights from the day included a plenary session featuring Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, former acting assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and professor, Departments of Medicine and Population Health at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School. The event also featured a keynote address by renowned data science journalist Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of the news site FiveThirtyEight.

Below, watch a sit-down interview with Dr. Marc Gourevitch and Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, former acting assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Throughout her talk, Dr. DeSalvo provided multiple instances of how data and new technologies are helping communities across the United States. One of her favorite examples was business and health care coming together in Nashville to build a data commons to address the opioid epidemic.

She recounted experiences from her time at HHS, where she served as national coordinator for health information technology in the Obama Administration, and shared insights from her work in Louisiana government, where she led recovery efforts and redesigned and implemented an improved health care delivery system in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. DeSalvo stressed the importance of value-based care over episodic care, since morbidity and mortality today is largely driven by social determinants like hopelessness, social isolation, and lack of education and economic opportunities.

Dr. Karen DeSalvo,  former Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health  and Human Services (HHS) and Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Chief Population Health  Officer, NYC Health + Hospitals, featured in the opening plenary discussion.
Dr. Karen DeSalvo, former Acting Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, Chief Population Health Officer, NYC Health + Hospitals, featured in the opening plenary discussion.

“I would really like to see that we’re not medicalizing social determinants and population health, but strengthening the public health infrastructure to be a much better partner to health care.” She also cited the historic divergence of public health and health care as a major hurdle to advancing population health in the U.S., reminding the audience that public health receives three percent of funding in the U.S., while healthcare receives 97 percent. “I’m going to spend the rest of my life trying to bring these two worlds together,” said Dr. DeSalvo.

In his keynote address, Nate Silver described the challenges in finding meaningful information in the era of big data, and explained why critical thinking must play an essential role.

Nate Silver, founder and  editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, gives the keynote address
Nate Silver, founder and editor-in-chief of FiveThirtyEight, gives the keynote address.

“Despite the wealth of data, the world is not necessarily becoming more predictable,” said Silver. “What you have more data, you have more room for interpretation. I think the right approach is to get 80 percent of the way there with data and then the last 20 percent is where your intuition is important.”

When you have really big data sets, health professionals also need to think critically about how to tune out information that isn’t helpful, Silver said.  

Other themes of discussion throughout the day included panels on moving from information to insight in advancing population health, leveraging data to bridge health care and population health, and data innovation to strengthen community action for health.

Sonia Angell, MD, MPH, Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, encouraged the audience to think about the importance of identifying gaps in data and data blind spots. In order to use data to provide the evidence for action, Dr. Angell said, it’s important to think about who is not in the data. As an example, Dr. Angell described how the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is now collecting data to understand more about the population involved with the criminal justice system.

“If we’re not paying attention to the populations that are left out, we are missing program design and we’re missing designing effective interventions,” warned Dr. Angell.

Dr. Sonia Angell, Deputy  Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, presenting  as part of a panel discussion entitled From Information to Insight for  Population Health
Dr. Sonia Angell, Deputy Commissioner, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, presenting as part of a panel discussion entitled From Information to Insight for Population Health

In a discussion about how to better leverage data to bridge health care and public health, Leora Horwitz, MD, MHS, director, Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science, NYU Langone Health, associate professor, Department of Population Health and Medicine, described her team’s work on synthesizing a torrent of data so that it is useful.

“Healthcare systems historically have done a poor job in thinking about data from a population perspective,” said Dr. Horwitz. Her focus at NYU, she said, is figuring out what data people actually want. “We try to use our machine learning capabilities to collect data from all over the system to make diagnoses that we are missing.”  

Lisa Marsch, PhD  (left), Director, Dartmouth Center for Technology and Behavioral Health with  Dr. Farzad Mostashari, (center) CEO, Aledade, with Dr. Leora Horwitz (center  right), Director, Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science, NYU  Langone Health, with Dr. Toyin Ajayi (right), Chief Health Officer, Cityblock  Health participating in a panel discussion entitled Leveraging Data to Bridge  Healthcare and Public Health
Lisa Marsch, PhD (left), Director, Dartmouth Center for Technology and Behavioral Health with Dr. Farzad Mostashari, (center) CEO, Aledade, with Dr. Leora Horwitz (center right), Director, Center for Healthcare Innovation and Delivery Science, NYU Langone Health, with Dr. Toyin Ajayi (right), Chief Health Officer, Cityblock Health participating in a panel discussion entitled Leveraging Data to Bridge Healthcare and Public Health

“Data can do a lot of things: it can provide clarity, it can motivate, it can monitor, it can make the path easier,” said co-panelist Farzad Mostashari, MD, CEO of Aledade. However, he cautioned that historically, public health has not been aligned with the business model of healthcare. “If you’re not aligned in terms of your incentives and your business model, you’re not going to get system change that’s needed. Unless we get that alignment, we’re not going to get the results we’re hoping for with data.”

The day’s closing discussion focused on integrity in data collection and using data innovation to strengthen community action for health. Amen Ra Mashariki, PhD, served as director of the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics in New York City and now leads urban analytics at Esri—a digital mapping company that builds big data and analytics software that provides location intelligence and insights for almost every industry. He warned about the potential for the use of data to harm vulnerable and underserved communities--particularly if algorithms are not designed with input and feedback from the communities they are specifically designed to impact. He also described the growth of data activist organizations advocating for the responsible use of data, and the reduction of bias in algorithms.  

 

--Sasha Walek