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Developers show off data analytic tools at Datapalooza

Ed Burns, Site Editor

When Julia Winn was first identified as having depression, it seemed like an odd diagnosis to her. The disorder appeared to come out of nowhere. Yet two years after her initial diagnosis, after taking antidepressants and going through counseling, she still struggled with mood and energy.

It wasn't until she learned that some forms of hormonal birth control, including the type she started taking around the time of her initial diagnosis, can contribute to depressive symptoms that things started making sense.

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State of the art is to roll the dice. Every time you go in to get a medication you flip the coin and if it comes up heads you're on the right one, tails you're on the wrong one and have to go around the cycle again. We can do better.

Benjamin Zagorsky,
co-founder MyBetterFit

This experience is what led Winn to start MyBetterFit, an online resource that helps people find birth control options that are least likely to cause side effects given the user's personal characteristics. The application works by analyzing data from clinical trials, Medicare claims, the DailyMed database and online patient forums. This data is then compared to personal information supplied by users to identify the form of birth control with which the user is most likely to have a positive experience.

MyBetterFit took home first place at the Massachusetts Health Data Consortium's Datapalooza competition, held Oct. 3. The competition challenged app developers to come up with programs that engage patients, are scalable, use federal health data, are innovative, and have the potential to improve individual patient or population care.

More data is available today than ever before, including federal resources, private payers and physicians' electronic health record systems. But this does not mean the information is always useful. A major theme of contestants' entries in Datapalooza was extracting information from all these sources to improve an aspect of patient care.

"We are data-rich, but we're becoming doctor-poor," said Ash Damle, CEO of San Mateo, Calif.-based MEDgle, a company that entered a data analytics system into the competition. He said the U.S. is facing a looming doctor shortage that is only going to grow worse over time. But analytics can compensate for this imbalance. "Analytics gives data a voice, and allows it to have a conversation with you."

MEDgle compiles data from similar sources to MyBetterFit, including HealthData.gov, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and PubMed. The system helps physicians build a picture of how their patients' conditions are likely to proceed based on available clinical knowledge. Patients and payers can also use the application to create personalized treatment plans.

Buzz Brown, chief information officer at Keego Harbor, Mich.-based Munetrix, detailed a patient-centered application he helped develop called Medetrix. The program allows patients who are going through repetitive treatment cycles like chemotherapy to track their medical test data and personal observations throughout their treatment. The application pulls data from the RxNorm database, the National Institutes of Health and specialists' professional groups to gauge whether a patient's readings are normal. Certain measures, such as hemoglobin or platelet counts, may determine if patients can safely undergo another round of treatment.

Brown, whose background is in database development, said he was inspired to create the program because of his personal experience with colon cancer. During his treatment, he found there was not one resource that made it possible for him to track how he felt on given days, the medications he was taking and the procedures he underwent. He felt dissatisfied with the paper log book provided by his physician. His insurer offered an online portal, but it didn't have all the information he wanted. His hospital launched a separate portal toward the end of his treatment, but after a year of procedures the system showed that he had no health issues on record the first time he logged on.

Medetrix is intended to give patients more control over their treatments, Brown said. This was a major theme of Datapalooza. Participants said that providing patients with more information about their care is one of the most important developments of the growing utilization of data.

Benjamin Zagorsky, who co-founded MyBetterFit with Winn, said that physicians have historically had access to data on how likely a given side effect is to occur. But this information only described the likelihood for the general population. There was no way to apply to it specific patients. Analytics is starting to take this degree of chance out of the equation.

"State of the art is to roll the dice," Zagorsky said. "Every time you go in to get a medication you flip the coin and if it comes up heads you're on the right one, tails you're on the wrong one and have to go around the cycle again. We can do better."

Providers can start taking some of the randomness out of care to ensure their patients receive the best possible care by leveraging the vast amounts of data currently available.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ed Burns, news writer, or contact @EdBurnsTT on Twitter.


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