RocHackHealth: A Path Toward New Solutions to Health Care Issues

RocHackHealth, a health care data hackathon hosted by the University of Rochester CTSI, was held this past weekend, April 8th –  10th, and was a great success. Teams of “hactivists” competed to come up with innovative big data solutions to three issues currently facing the US health care system.

The A Team, which included Alykhan Alani, Adora D’Souza, Arnab Sarkar,  Anas Abidin,  Sushant K,  won the first challenge using Medicare data to predict and prevent hospital readmissions.

The second challenge,  to examine patterns of controlled substance prescription in the US and identify potential over-prescribers was won by Team AHA members, Anthony Corbett, Hillary Lincourt, Andy Straw. In fact, Team AHA managed to identify several medical providers who are currently being investigated, or are serving sentences, for over prescribing narcotics.

Finally, Team Datalization members Giulia Paris, Hunter Johnston, Thanatcha Khunket (Kwan), Zino HuThe won the third challenge using Medicare data to identify social networks of health care providers in New York State.

For more images and information on the winners, click here.

Can Big Data Transform Health Care?


Last night, Martin Zand, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Rochester Center for Health Informatics and co-director of the CTSI discussed the future of big data in health care at the Simon Business School New York City Seminar Series.

Big data, defined as too large or complex to be captured, analyzed, or stored by conventional data processing methods, has captured the world’s attention in recent years. The inception of many new and inexpensive ways to collect large amounts of data (think Fitbit® and genome sequencing), has unlocked new and boundless potential to inform practices in business, government, health care, and beyond.

MartinZandNEWWhen it comes to health care and medical research, data abounds. Data is collected in real time by medical devices, such as EEG, and new technological devices, such as consumer fitness monitors or wearable health monitors. Millions of clinical images, laboratory results, and electronic medical records are produced every day. Massive amounts of de-identified patient data are also available from national registries and Medicare. The human genome is itself a treasure trove of information and the Precision Medicine Initiative Cohort aims to collect and analyze one million genome sequences. All of these examples show that the US has numerous resources and a preponderance of big data that could be used to improve health care in the US … and it sure could use some improvement.

It’s no secret that the US overpays and under performs in the health care sector compared to other nations. We pump much more money – most of which comes from private sources – into health care than any other nation in the world and yet we have shorter life spans and higher infant mortality than countries who spend less on health care. According to The Commonwealth Fund Executive Rankings from 2014, although the US health care system does well in terms of safety and overall efficacy of medical care, it ranks poorly overall and in terms of health care efficiency, equity, and in the health of our daily lives.

However, the boundless potential offered by big health care data will remain untapped if data analysis methods fail to keep pace with data collection. In his talk, Zand suggested that we need to remove obstacles of data sharing and use, improve data visualization and train researchers and health care professionals on how to collect and handle data. Then we can use this data to figure out who is doing things well – in terms of health care data analysis and health care outcomes – and emulate them. Using big data, we could predict when and where adverse events might occur, and intervene before they happen. Similarly, we could predict risk of disease in patients from their genetic data and implement preventative medicine. Data science can also help us figure out why quality and cost of health care varies across the nation and how to standardize it, how to get health care to remote areas efficiently, and how to leverage networking between healthcare providers.

There are many issues in the US health care system that could be addressed using big data. Zand urges researchers to clearly identify issues needing intervention, try many different methods of analyzing the data, ensure the data is accurate and reliable, and to share their results.  That is one promising path to transforming US health care in the new era of big data.

November 14: Rochester Healthcare Deep Data Dive!

The Rochester Center for Health Informatics and the Goergen Institute for Data Science will host its inaugural Rochester Healthcare Deep Data Dive (ROCHD3) unconference in the Saunders Research Building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Nov. 14. The event is free to attend, though registration is required.

ROCHD3 is focused on bringing together healthcare data hackers, app designers, entrepreneurs, students, healthcare professionals, tech developers and individuals with new, innovative and effective uses of health data to improve patient outcomes and overall health. It will also drive topics for a Rochester Health Care Hack event next spring.

An “un-conference” is an event without the rules and structure of a classical conference. Instead, the participants create the agenda and discussions.


  • DocGraph:  Healthcare Provider Networking Graphs
  • DrugGraph:  Healthcare Provider Prescribing Practices Data
  • Associative and Graph Databases in Healthcare
  • CryptoHealth:  Using blockchain and cryptocurrency methods for health data
  • Twitter Healthcare applications
  • Big Data Visualization
  • Network and Graph Theory

The “ungenda”

  • Registration and breakfast begins at 8 AM with plenty of coffee and networking
  • Event kick off promptly at 9am
  • What is Healthcare Data? 4 slides x 4minutes (4×4’s) from the Sponsors
  • Lunch and more networking will be around 12:30pm
  • Breakout discussions for most of the afternoon
  • Group 4x4s in the Auditorium around 3:30pm
  • Wrap up will be at 4:30pm
  • Post HD3 libations at College Town (Beer Market) around 5:00 PM

Click here to register; for more information, contact

URMC Supporting Global Health with Technology, Big Data

Researchers at URMC have commenced two projects to improve maternal and mental health in low- and middle-income countries by harnessing information technology and social media.

Eric Caine, M.D.

Eric Caine, M.D.

The first, led by Eric Caine, M.D., chair of the Department of Psychiatry, will train researchers from Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Mongolia to use mobile technology and social media to discern when populations are under mental stress.

The second, led by Timothy Dye, Ph.D., professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of biomedical informatics at the university’s Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and Deborah Ossip, Ph.D., professor of Public Health Sciences and Oncology, will train teams from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Honduras to use information and communication technologies to address in-country maternal health problems.

Tim Dye, Ph.D.

Tim Dye, Ph.D.

The projects are each supported by three-year $300,000 grants from the Global Health Research and Research Training eCapacity Initiative from the National Institutes of Health’s Fogarty International Center. The grants were limited to physicians and scientists who had previously received grants from the Fogarty International Center, and URMC is one of only two institutions in the country to receive multiple grants.

“As we move in to the era of big data, we are very well positioned to be a leader in biomedical informatics and data science,” said Stephen Dewhurst, Ph.D., vice dean for research at URMC. “These two projects really build on the research strengths we already have in place.”

Deb Ossip, Ph.D.

Deb Ossip, Ph.D.

Caine’s group, which includes Vincent Silenzio, M.D., co-director of the Laboratory of Informatics and Network Computational Studies, will train four researchers annually at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

The training program will focus on the use of mobile technology and big data to improve mental health; one potential application would be a program that scours Twitter for certain keywords that signal a population is under more mental stress than usual. The first four trainees arrived in late June.

Vincent Silenzio, M.D.

Vincent Silenzio, M.D.

“Next year, they’ll come back with four more trainees, and we’ll pair them up,” said Caine. “This way, we can mentor the mentors in addition to training the new people.”

Dye and Ossip’s project, which is called MundoComm, will attempt to improve maternal health, which has stagnated in some Latin American countries in recent years. Their program will provide online and in-country training on the use of information communication technology to help improve the health of women in pregnancy. Community-based field teams will use this training to develop and field test maternal health projects, while receiving mentorship from the MundoComm team.

“If there’s a problem with breastfeeding in a particular community, then a team of people — a clinician, a data technician, and an outreach worker, for example — would come in and learn how to use information technology to tackle it,” said Dye.

Both projects leverage the partnerships and connections that the researchers had previously made in Asia and Latin America. Caine’s project builds on the Asia-Pacific International Research and Education Network, while MundoComm closely involves several of Dye and Ossip’s former trainees from Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic who once studied in Rochester and are now in faculty positions themselves.

CTSI and Center for Community Health welcome Kathleen Holt

Seeing something you love embraced by the masses can make for a wonderful feeling of validation. But the early adopters always retain bragging rights, and Kathleen Holt loved big data before it was cool.

Kathleen Holt, Ph.D.

Kathleen Holt, Ph.D.

“I have a Ph.D. in social psychology psychometrics, so I’ve been interested in big data for a long time,” said Holt, senior project research associate for the CTSI and Center for Community Health. “But recently, the applications of big data have become practical and have implications just about everywhere.”

Holt joined the CTSI’s informatics team in late 2014. She spent the previous 14 years working for the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME), a council that accredits all the medical residency programs in the United States. Among other things, she worked to  analyze residency programs.

“If you’re getting surgery training in Mississippi, is that the same training that you’d be getting if you were in New York City?” said Holt. “And how do you equate those things? How many surgeries are the residents doing, and how many do they need to do to be deemed competent?  To help address those questions, we’d work with the surgeons and experts on the review committees.”

She was brought to the university by the notion that she could work on projects that would more closely impact patients and in the Rochester area.

“I’m very passionate about the Rochester area and local health and all the forms it takes — mental health, economic health, physical health,” she said. “It seemed like UR, and the Center for Community Health and the CTSI are places where research comes together to improve people’s health.”

So far, Holt has been studying data generated by the blood pressure advocate program at the Center for Community Health. Much data has been collected for the program, and she’s helping to analyze it, and is hoping to apply a geographic information system to create a data-driven picture of the impact of the program. This means answering questions such as: Where are the patients from?  Are there things we can learn about our populations and our programs by examining where patients live?

At the CTSI, she’s worked with Tim Dye, the CTSI’s Director of Biomedical Informatics, and Dongmei Li, associate professor of Clinical and Translational Science, on a certificate program for biomedical informatics that will become a master’s degree program somewhere down the line.

“Kathleen is a critical connection between the informatics resources of the CTSI and the Center for Community Health,” said Dye. “Because she is embedded with both teams, she’s really able to match CCH needs with CTSI resources and informatics expertise. Since Kathleen has deep experience with technology and analysis, she’s also ideally suited to contribute to the design of effective community-based information systems.”

When she’s not at the CTSI, Holt and her husband (a family physician) spend some of their time performing in the Rochester Medical Orchestra, a group of musicians in the medical community who come together for several concerts a year. Holt (who plays the oboe) founded the group in 2007 with her husband (who plays the clarinet), and the orchestra’s concerts  each year are fundraisers for local medical charities.

Holt’s office will soon be located on the 4th floor of the Saunders Research Building; for now, she’s in the CTSI Director’s Office. Stop by and say hello.