HealthChangers Podcast: Data-the Secret Ingredient of Actionable Health Care Insights

December 4, 2018

You might have heard of Iron Chef, the popular cooking show where the competition is based on secret ingredients. The Iron Viz competition is like that, but with health care data. There’s often information buried within that data that can help illustrate preventive care options and treating patients. But, the information is no use if people can’t access it or share it in an understandable way. The visual software company ‘Tableau’ pioneered one way to tackle these issues. Teams at Iron Viz are given data and are tasked to create a “viz,” or visual, that can bring new insight to the data. Part of the idea is to have average people become a kind of “citizen data scientist.” Our guests in this episode of HealthChangers have brought this idea, and Iron Viz, to health care.

Rachel Day: So, I've been hearing a lot about this buzzword recently "citizen data science." The concept is about making data and analysis, visualization more accessible and easier to understand, so companies are gaining a deeper and more nuanced understanding of their users. What do you think that means for health care? And how does it related the Iron Viz competition?

Taylor Cole: We live in such an age where information is readily available at our fingertips. We're just used to constantly having information. A lot of that information, though, is information that you lose pretty quickly, because you're not necessarily looking at it deeply. It's maybe in formats that you don't understand. With data visualization in general, you can definitely convey information easier and in more meaningful, impactful ways.

Cynthia Maywalt: What I pulled from that term "citizen data science," was the accessibility of the information. You have one side of the spectrum where it's completely free, not a lot of governance. On the other side, it's completely centralized, and you have to submit all these tickets to get access to the data, and it's much more regulated, but only select people have access to it. I feel like our center of excellence for Tableau can be somewhere right in the middle. With Iron Viz, we can help the adoption and enablement of that.

Our competitors, they come from all different departments and all different levels. So being able to get a background from an actuarial employee or somebody in data science or somebody on even the infrastructure side, it just creates such a different viewpoint for all the same data and insight.

Citizen Data Science

“I think at the essence, that is what citizen data science is, coming from the bottom up of looking at the data and seeing what we can really find in it.”

TC: I think with the Iron Viz, there's definitely a bottom up type approach. This wasn't a directive from high up telling us that we need to find some insights into this. We essentially gave teams a prompt, and these teams worked together and combining both the right and the left sides of their brains, were able to really showcase some great findings. I think at the essence, that is what citizen data science is, is coming from the bottom up of looking at the data and seeing what can we really find in this, rather than we need to do X, find the data to support this decision or disprove it. It's just looking at it holistically.

CM: Absolutely.

RD: I've heard of Iron Chef, is there any relation to that, to Iron Chef, to Iron Viz?

TC: There is definitely a component that is related to Iron Chef in that you don't know what data you're going to get. You don't know really what you can do with it, what questions you're going to answer. And to a certain extent, we try to stay true to that. However, we want the findings to be meaningful, and really the only way we can do that is by giving them a little bit more time. In Tableau world, when they do it, you have an hour. You see the data, you have an hour, you've got to make something happen in an hour. And while that's really great for creating creative “vizes”, it doesn't necessarily lend itself to answering business questions. What we try to do with our Iron Viz, we want to give the contestants time to look through the data and make meaningful connections and present that.

RD: Okay, so I want to go back and kind of talk about the competition from start to finish. Can you give me a holistic look of who participates? Then what do they work on? How do winners get picked?

TC: Absolutely. This year we had five team participate across multiple departments. They were given a week. We had given them a list of three questions.

A Competition that fosters teamwork and buildings diversity and experience

“We really like to have diversity and experience. If we can get people who are maybe only viewingreport once a month to come in, they can see how these reports are made. So that's where we come in from a team-building standpoint.”

RD: Can anyone in the organization participate? How do they find out about it? Are they selected?

TC: It's open to everyone, though the people who would actually really know about it tend to be those who have some experience in Tableau, whether it's on the Tableau server side or the Tableau desktop side. But we really like to have diversity and experience. And so, if we can get people who are maybe only viewing a report once a month to come in and you see how these reports are made. So that's where we come in from a team-building standpoint.

We give them a week, we give them a prompt of questions. We tell them, "This is the data you're going to be using." Like Iron Chef, you can bring in other data sources, though you must use this data. We use Greenplum data, which is a lot of our claims data. The questions we asked this year were kind of varied. There was, based on claims utilization, what personas and trends do you see in our membership? It's open ended. We are trying to encourage our members to utilize telehealth. So we had asked our competitors, looking at the data that we have in telehealth, what can you find? What are some of the trends that you're noticing, and how can that help us as a company better serve our members?

The third question, which I think was kind of an out-there question, which is one that I think was very popular, had to do with earthquakes. There's going to be a major earthquake incident in the Pacific Northwest at some point. Hopefully, it'll be later after we're all long gone, but there will be some major disaster in the Northwest. That's just what science is telling us. It is imperative for us to know what can happen if that were to occur from a service standpoint. Are we going to be able to deploy services out to these areas? So we asked our competitors to really think about that question and think about what we would need to do to make sure that all of their needs are met. And one of the things that really struck out to me is how they leveraged maps.

Disaster Divas, who ended up actually winning the competition, had a great insight into, "this is what's going to happen if an earthquake's coming, but where are there opportunities for us to kind of get ahead of that?" They had suggested sending out care packages to our members to say, "Hey, we know that there is a potential for an earthquake. We care about you. We want to make sure that you are prepared." I thought that that was a great use of the data to inform decisions.

CM:  Within that same competition, the Disaster Divas won the Judge's Choice Award, team Abra-Ca-Data won the People's Choice Award. Both provided recommendations and ideas to implement to help solve the issue that was proposed in the question. So for instance, Abra-Ca-Data noted that millennial males, there's an opportunity for telehealth there. So, how to really focus efforts on that and focus our business direction there.

RD: So there's a People's Choices, do the competitors vote on their choices, and then judges vote for the overall winner?

CM: Totally, and just to clarify a little bit more on the logistics part of it. They're given the dataset a week in advance. That following week, we put on a presentation and invite anybody. We encourage the competitors to invite their teams and their superiors, so then they can see then what their focus has been in and where they see them really shine in this competition. Everybody has about 10 minutes to go through their findings and how that addresses the question that they were given. The judges go and they deliberate for a bit, and then they come back and determine the Judge's Choice winner.

At that point in time, we open up the People's Choice, and they display the workbooks and the insights, the questions, any summarization that those teams want to have for the finding, where everyone in our organization has an opportunity to vote and choose, vote up your favorite viz. That's where team Abra-Ca-Data ended up winning. So it's a really nice opportunity if the judges are looking at one thing more than the People's Choice and really give all teams another opportunity to compete.

 Real-life outcomes of the Iron Viz Competition

“They identified age-related trends in knee injuries, which actually ended up making the news. There was a really large peak in high school age kids due to sports and really being active there. So using that information, we can hopefully put that towards actionable insights as well as being aware and preventive in our overall strategy.”

RD: What are some of those outcomes and some of the insights for real life that come out of this competition?

CM: Last year we had folks that identified demographics that affect member health. There was a provider search tool that was based on claim price and value, identifying most expensive providers by episode type. And the winners, they identified age-related trends in knee injuries, which actually ended up making the news. So having that chance to really dive into the data, and they didn't have an opportunity, or maybe the direction to go and find that insight and dig that out. But between that team, we had somebody from our claims team, somebody from our health informatics teams, they were just able to dive in there and given the chance to find that little nugget of information that we can then apply to our strategic planning and initiatives for our service strategy moving forward.

RD: That's really interesting. Can you tell me a little bit more about the actual findings for the knee injury? What was the population it affected? What were some of the outcomes that came from that particular finding?

CM: What they found was there was a really large peak in high school age kids due to sports and really being active there. The piece that was on the news, they brought in a few different students talking about, "I just got into an accident on the field and tore my ACL," and it was on top of an injury to the same knee that she had an injury on the year prior. So using that information, we can hopefully put that towards actionable insights as well as being aware and preventative in our overall strategy.

RD:  That's amazing, like you, I wouldn't necessarily think that the most people at risk for knee injuries would be youth and people participating in sports. That's really interesting. So this sounds like a really great competition, lots of team building, lots of real life outcomes. What do you think the future of data analytics and Iron Viz hold for us?

TC: I think that's a two-part question. I think that data and analytics are going to constantly be informing our decisions company-wide. There are so many things that can be gleaned from the data. As for the Iron Viz, we're going to keep doing the Iron Viz. I think it's a fun thing for the participants and I think it definitely is meaningful in that it provides insights that we may not have otherwise had. I think that that's an important thing to do, especially as we go back in thinking about that citizen data science and creating bottom-up findings.

CM: I agree with Taylor's sentiment. It's not going away, and it's just getting ever more powerful to help with these decisions, to help anyone that's involved in the health care realm, which is pretty much anybody, on how they can make better choices, how we can provide better for them. And by "we," I mean any health care companies or anybody involved on the business side of it. Just lift everybody up.

The “Two-Second Advantage”

“There's this idea of what's called ‘the two-second advantage.’ If you can be ahead of the next problem, even by two seconds, you can definitely impact change.”

TC: And to get a little bit more philosophical of how it relates to health care, there's this idea of what's called "the two-second advantage." So if you can be ahead of the next problem, even by two seconds, you can definitely impact change. I think as health care, as more data in the health care realm becomes available, as data collection and data storage becomes cheaper, I think we're going to see great insights coming in the future from the data as more people are being trained for this, as there's more excitement around it. We just need to continue to kind of look for that two-second advantage, of how can we as a health care industry, make sure that we're providing the resources to everyone?

RD: What about any advice that you might have for other companies that are looking to hold some kind of a data visualization competition?

TC: Don't be afraid of the insights that you may see. I think that there's this fear ... and I don't think it's health care in general, I think it's just companies in general, they have a guiding principle, and they're looking towards that guiding principle, and they don't necessarily want things that may kind of shift the way they think. To go back to the knee example, I think what Cynthia said is very true. If we're thinking about knee injuries, we're probably thinking in terms of our older populations. But what we had found through the Iron Viz, is that's not necessarily the case. I think you just need to be open to having your preconceptions changed. I think you also have to be open to being wrong. I think if you're going to try to come just top down, not bring in other brains into it, you are missing opportunities.

CM: The insights are amazing, but I feel like even walking out of that competition, you've gained so many different connections within the company to help solve everyday business problems. For example, I'm currently working on a project, and without my connections through the Tableau community, I don't think I'd be able to get as far as I have in this project without connecting those dots between other people in the organization.

RD: Cynthia and Taylor, thank you both so much for joining me today. This was really interesting, and I loved learning more about the Iron Viz competition and your team. Thank you so much for being guests on Health Changers today.

CM: It was a really great opportunity. Thank you so much.

TC: Thank you.