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Why Would a Doctor’s Office Hire a Data Scientist?

Why does a medical practice need a data scientist?

And why would a data scientist want to work in a medical practice?

Parsley Health isn’t your ordinary medical practice, and our data scientist, Hants Williams isn’t your average data scientist.

Hants is a doctorally trained nurse, who specializes in healthcare focused data science and clinical interventions. He graduated from San Jose State University with a double major in Behavioral Science and Psychology, and from San Francisco State University with a B.S.N. In 2013, Hants was the recipient of a prestigious pre-doctoral Individual National Research Service Award (NINR) from the National Institutes of Health, while pursuing his doctoral degree at Duke University.

Hants also created the first (and only clinical validated) remote, mindfulness-based intervention for individuals with Sickle Cell Disease and chronic pain.

At Parsley Health, he helps doctors and health coaches understand the impact of their treatments, and enhances the way Parsley Health collects, measures, and reports member outcomes. Data is an integral part of Parsley Health. We need to know that what we are doing is making patients healthier.

We sat down with Hants to find out a little bit more about what he does.

Parsley Health: What is your educational background? How did you first get interested in medicine?

Hants Williams: What got me interested in healthcare was my older sister. She was, and still is a nurse practitioner in San Jose, California. I shadowed her, got to experience the life of a being healthcare provider, and enjoyed it all!

My educational journey started in the Bay Area, California. I first attended San Jose State, double majored in Behavioral Science and Psychology. Then on to San Francisco State University for my clinical degree in nursing. Next, I moved to North Carolina. I attended Duke University for my doctoral studies, and the University of Maryland Baltimore for my postdoc. There I was a National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded postdoctoral fellow working in a pain genetics lab.

PH: What is your research focused on? Do you have a special focus within medical studies?

HW: While I was at Duke, I focused on the development of telehealth style interventions for chronic pain. I broadly learned how chronic diseases are studied and intervened upon. At Duke, I worked on a variety of different clinical projects. But the one that I am most proud of is the development (clinical trial) of the first and only remote telephonic mindfulness-based stress reduction program for individuals with Sickle Cell Disease and chronic pain. Since Duke, I have become more interested in how healthcare data can help solve the acute and chronic problems that face our nation.

PH: What about your medical education/practice got you interested in data science?

HW: Most healthcare providers are aware of the potential benefits and impact that data science will have on healthcare. But not surprisingly, there is a deficit between the understanding and working knowledge of data science, and how it can directly translate into clinically meaningful change. What I am particularly excited about, is the direct and indirect impact data science will have within our healthcare system. In addition, I look forward to seeing how data science will change medical practices. This includes how medications are prescribed, the personalization of treatment plans, and what diseases move from being non-preventable to preventable, based on the advancements of data science. I am truly excited to be at the forefront of this new period in healthcare.

PH: In what ways do you think measurements of health care and quality matter for those in the healthcare industry?

HW: In order for doctors to make the best possible decision, and for members to truly understand what is actually going on with their own health, it is vital that the information provided to them is clear, succinct, and accurate. Of course this is not as easy as it sounds. The presentation of data is tricky. By nature of the metrics and care outcomes we are tracking, the information is not naturally a number. For example, your heart rate or blood pressure is only a numerical representation of a complex physiological function. Most often the raw data is messy, confusing, and sometimes contradictory. Individuals like myself are trying to not only to come up with more succinct ways of representing complex care outcomes but also how these health outcomes vary over time.

PH: Why did you choose to join Parsley Health?

HW: I chose Parsley Health because of its mission and its new way of approaching healthcare. Parsley Health focuses on the health of individuals before they are severely sick and or hospitalized. This way, we can dramatically improve peoples’ quality of life. We can also reduce the burden of chronic diseases on our healthcare system. Prior to Parsley Health, I was focused on the treatment of individuals after they were already chronically ill. People with two, three, or more chronic diseases. So it’s great to be tackling the problem from the other side.

PH: From a technological perspective, what is unique about Parsley Health?

HW: Parsley Health is the future of healthcare. Firstly, it stands out in providing one on one interactions, by both physicians and health coaches, outside of the hospital arena. Thus, the technology and the process of engaging our members share some similarities to how healthcare is typically delivered. But on the other hand, has many unique aspects to it. From my own perspective, what I find truly unique about Parsley Health is our ability to engage with members, using non-invasive techniques, to dramatically improve our member’s health.

PH: How do you use data science to improve the member/patient experience at Parsley Health? And the doctor/health coach experience?

HW: We use our membership health data in a variety of different ways to improve the membership experience. Based on the trends we see and what conditions are most frequently noted by our physicians, we further refine our content and practice. We focus on what is specifically important for our members.

In addition, we use some of our preliminary outcome data to determine where we have room for improvement. In many cases, we are seeing positive results across a range of different conditions (e.g., irritable bowel syndrome, insomnia) within the first 30-60 days of membership initiation. But regardless, we are trying to set the bar even higher, get better where we need to, and become the best at treating some of these complex, yet highly preventable symptoms and diseases.

PH: What findings have been influential for you to dig deeper in what you do as a data scientist? What is your current work focused on at Parsley Health?

HW: At Parsley Health, one of the hardest problems that I encounter is the tracking of health across a period of time. To be more specific, because the way healthcare is provided in the United States today, we know very little about healthy people. Based on the literature I have come across, there are almost zero peer-reviewed, validated tools to assess the health of individuals across a period of time that are already healthy. Many of the assessments that providers use in today’s healthcare arena are for individuals with multiple, comorbid chronic illnesses, that are likely in the later years of life. At Parsley Health, we are thus in the process of creating our very own tool, specifically designed for our members, to better track their health during the course of their membership.

PH: What do you see in the future of healthcare? And specifically at Parsley Health?

HW: There are many things that I would like to see changed and improved upon in our healthcare system. For example, everyone having a doctor, nurse, or health coach to guide them and offer expertise when needed for their health. The number of uninsured Americans is pretty troubling, and the quality of care that the average American receives is subpar and costly.

What Parsley Health is doing is extraordinary and putting the right foot forward for all. We are attempting to improve a broken system. To improve the quality of life of those that cannot manage their symptoms because of a lack of a trustworthy primary care provider. Moving forward with Parsley Health, I am excited to see how we improve the lives of our current members, and expand our membership to new types of individuals, for example, high risk patients and those with limited financial resources.


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