Harnessing Big Data to Deliver Healthy Babies

Some things in life are priceless, as credit card ads remind us. A baby’s life is certainly at the top of that list. By using self-service data analytics to process big data, a Memphis-based health management firm is bringing more healthy children into the world.

Alpha Maxx Healthcare, a clinical practice founded in 1998, specializes in the management of high-risk pregnancies. Its mission is to reduce the incidence of premature births and give newborns a good start in life—an enormous challenge when serving low-income women, who often have less than optimal health.

“Pregnancy is a complex 42-week project with many variables, so there is no one set approach that works for every woman,” says Chuck Green, president of Alpha Maxx. Collecting and analyzing data from pregnant women enables the health care firm to identify high-risk patients during the first three months of a pregnancy, when there is still time to contribute to a positive outcome.

Managing Massive Amounts of Patient Data

Nurses, social workers and other clinicians gather extensive patient information during clinical assessments, but analyzing that data to guide treatment was very difficult. In 2014, Alpha Maxx started using a visualization tool from Qlik that enabled analysts to organize data and put it in a dashboard.

“We could see things that weren’t previously apparent,” Green observes, “but it was a struggle to enter data in the format required.” Reformatting the huge amount of data using spreadsheet tools was virtually impossible.

While at a Qlik conference, he discussed this problem with Alteryx, a provider of self-service data analytics. “I downloaded our data to Dropbox, and the Alteryx rep changed it in seconds,” he recalls. “It was perfect.”

It was also astonishingly fast. The program was able to read 100,000 rows of data in just three seconds, and it made a first pass through 81 million insurance claims in 35 minutes.

Green set out to redo what had taken six weeks to compile before. “From beginning to end, it took me three days—even though I ran everything multiple times and made changes to get it exactly the way I wanted it,” he says.

Siloed data was no longer a problem. The Alteryx system enabled him to pull data from multiple sources, run it into one workflow and clean it up.

“We could see everything we had done and how it affected the outcome,” Green reports. He built a model to analyze data from 2002 to 2005 and found that the rate of prematurity dropped from 18 percent of patients in 2002 to just 6 percent in 2004, validating their approach.

Knowing a patient’s history helps Alpha Maxx understand why a mother is in the condition she is in and how to help her. “Alteryx enables us to pick up certain values, compare them to other data and let the clinician know if a patient needs further help,” he explains. “It allows for predictive analytics and gives us the tools to tell mothers what they should do for an optimal outcome.”

Interactive App Pushes Data Out to Users

This year, Alpha Maxx is launching an interactive app that will push data out to phones, tablets and laptops. “Our nurses and social workers don’t want technical data,” Green says. “They need plain English or visual information they can immediately grasp.”

For instance, blinking red lights on a map will highlight every hospital in which there is a patient with a gestational age of 22 to 30 weeks. “Our clinicians will be able to click on a blinking light to drill down to the patients we should be concerned about,” he adds.

That will save a lot of time and legwork, especially in remote rural areas, says Angela Brignole, vice president of perinatal quality initiatives for Alpha Maxx. “We need to know as soon as possible if someone is high risk or admitted with preterm labor so the proper interventions can be made,” she explains. “If there is a three-to-five-day time lag before we get that information, a lot of things can happen. Our data shows we are effective; now we are looking for ways to be more efficient.”

Alpha Maxx has already made great strides in reducing the number of premature births, the mortality rate for infants and mothers, and the need for intensive care. Costs have dropped as a result. But Green has higher hopes.

“Having a tool like Alteryx empowers us,” he says. “We have been able to use our massive data in a way that we couldn’t before. I can’t think of anything we can’t do. We are shooting for as close to a zero prematurity rate as possible.”

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