UNC Charlotte Technology Helps Researchers Take Closer Look at Public Health Data

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A paper co-published by Public Health Sciences faculty is demonstrating the capability of new technology that allows in-depth analysis of health outcomes amongst different groups. Published in the American Journal of Preventative medicine, the research outlines a novel approach to studying public health data.

The technology lets researchers look at distinct populations experiencing high levels of a health problem in a more detailed manner than was possible using previous methods. “The advantage comes from warehousing individual data rather than relying on aggregates,” explained study co-author Dr. James Studnicki.

Researchers examined individual mortality data from the Florida Department of Health for every death from 2008-2010 in Orange County. The results offer a portrait of the technology’s potential.

“Existing sources of publicly available data and powerful information technology enable hundreds of millions of subpopulations to be defined and analyzed for multiple outcomes, such as deaths (as in our demonstration), avoidable hospitalizations, inpatient and ambulatory surgical complications, readmissions, newly diagnosed cancers, emergency room visits and many others,” the study noted.

The research comes as UNC Charlotte continues to expand efforts to be a leader in developing “Big Data” technology. Earlier this summer, a CHHS team led by Dr. Studnicki and healthcare company Premier, Inc. launched a program that helps individual hospitals analyze patient data, set priorities and spend money intelligently.

Studnicki said when deployed on a national scale, the science from the most recent study would be a major step forward in public health.

Breaking down populations into smaller groups is a “necessary step in developing the kind of ‘precision public health’ that is analogous to the ‘precision medicine’ we are now seeing—such as genomics,” he explained. “It will result from the integration of evidence based medical/population health science and modern information technology.”

Studnicki said he and his colleagues are working on the equations necessary to deploy subpopulation analytics on a national scale.

The study published in the American Journal of Preventative medicine was partially supported by a grant from the Charlotte Research Institute.

The study was conducted in colloboration with researchers from The University of Central Florida College of Medicine, the Institute For Healthcare Improvement and the School of Public Health at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center

by: Wills Citty