Coding Contest Shows How Big Data Can Improve Health Care

The website No Sleep Kills looks to use health care data to show how sleep apnea can factor into auto accidents

By Fred O'Connor
Fri, May 25, 2012

IDG News Service (Boston Bureau) — A recent coding competition in the Boston area brought together IT professionals, medical workers and others with an interest in health IT to show how data analytics can improve health care.

The Health 2.0 Boston Code-a-thon, held May 11 and 12, featured approximately 85 participants who formed groups to create, in approximately one day, an application that turns large amounts of health care data into useful information for patients and care providers.

The winning team created the No Sleep Kills website, where people can access information on how poor sleeping patterns can lead to drowsy drivers and auto accidents. The website aims to draw attention to the link between sleep apnea, a condition in which people temporarily stop breathing during sleep, and vehicular crashes.

Given the content's time constraints, Joel Sutherland and Guy Shechter, two members of the winning four-person team, noted that the site is still under development. They, along with team members David Dinatale and Amber Zimmermann, hope to incorporate additional information sources, allowing the site to offer deeper analysis.

Shechter wants to incorporate anonymized patient data from Athena Health, an event partner that offers health-care providers electronic medical record software.

"The whole goal of getting more health data digital is so you can start doing meaningful things with data," Shechter said. "If we can get access to Athena Health data on actual patients we can extract some of the risk factors we are looking at."

For now, people who visit the site can enter personal information, including age, weight and number of poor sleep nights, to determine if they are sleep deprived. For medical professionals, the portal offers information on determining whether their patients have poor sleep patterns.

The team would like the site to eventually include Medicare cost data to show that sleep apnea testing may help lower health care costs.

Data analysis highlights how a common health issue has consequences that can greatly impact lives, explained Sutherland, who works for Mitre, which manages U.S. government research centers, but who entered the contest as an individual.

"We need action items that say this is a problem," he said. "Here we can show that paying attention to sleep apnea improves fatal crash rates. If you can show that, then policy makers can say this work actually saves lives more than just treating sleep apnea."

The portal culled information from several sources, including publicly available data from U.S. government offices such as the Centers for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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