HHS adviser: Real-world challenges plant the seeds for effective data analytics

A senior adviser for health IT at HHS said identifying specific health concerns, like opioid abuse, helps data scientists understand how to deploy analytics.

Data analytics and health IT can solve a lot of problems in healthcare. At the federal level, defining exactly what those problems are and where they exist can help data scientists understand how technology can help.

Identifying real-world healthcare challenges is one of the key steps the Department of Health and Human Services has initiated that will provide data scientists with concrete objectives, according to Matt Quinn, senior adviser for health information technology at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) within HHS.

Quinn, who has previously held health IT advisory positions in the Federal Communication Commission and in the private sector with GE and Intel, spoke about his new role within the agency at a recent event hosted by Cloudera. He said because HRSA touches more than 90 different programs covering a broad range of health concerns, he is focused on thinking about how federal data can improve healthcare and create and innovative care models.

“The role I have now is trying to think about what’s possible,” he said.

Part of that revolves around three healthcare priorities outlined under HHS Secretary Tom Price: The opioid epidemic, mental illness and childhood health and diabetes. Having targeted goals allows the federal government to identify the right technology and tools for each issue.

“Big data and analytics aren’t a thing, they’re a journey,” Quinn said. “Getting there really takes time.”

RELATED: Efforts to curb opioid epidemic remain top priority for CMS

One major opportunity to address the opioid epidemic resides within the internet of things. But that new, innovative technology also brings a broad set of considerations regarding cybersecurity, interoperability and the challenge of drinking from a firehose of data—only some of which may be useful.

Healthcare providers are beginning to embrace the IoT and integrate devices into the clinical environment. However, there are still concerns that connected devices put providers at risk for even more cyberattacks.

“From a federal perspective, there are a lot of issues there, not the least of which is how are you going to manage this stream of data?” Quinn said.