1.16.2016

Data science at Aspire Healthcare


I'm starting as chief data scientist at Aspire Health. I'm excited about it. Let me tell you why.

Aspire provides in-home nursing services to very sick patients, on a shared savings model. Regular in-home checkins from nurses help patients stay healthier, which reduces unnecessary hospitalizations, which creates significant savings for their insurance companies. It’s a rare niche in medicine where everybody wins.

I started working with Aspire last summer, as a contractor. At first, I thought of it as one of several companies with interesting data challenges. ("Medium-large scale data mining to identify preventable hospitalizations.") Over time, I realized that the company is in a unique place, and that joining would give me a unique opportunity to help shape the future of health care by doing what I do best.

Here are the things that convinced me, in no particular order.

Aspire is targeting one of the biggest opportunities in health care today.
10% of Americans account for 68% of health care costs. Evidence shows that as much as 22% of that cost comes from preventable complications—especially unnecessary hospital visits.

By conservative estimates, preventing the complications that send chronically ill people to the hospital is a $40 billion opportunity—arguably the single biggest opportunity in American health care. And it’s done by improving quality of care to patients, not rationing it.

In other words, Aspire is building a data system that will literally save lives, by helping chronically sick patients avoid complications that can send them to the hospital and/or kill them.

The company is in hypergrowth mode.
Aspire has a proven business model and all the right connections for setting up contracts with insurance companies. That means that the company can scale very, very quickly. I love the pace and urgency of high-growth businesses. I love the challenge of solving one problem after another as quickly as possible, while making sure that the pieces cumulate to more than the sum of their parts.

On top of that, the company is led by a fantastic team. I love learning from a team of pros---people who are very good at their jobs, could choose to do almost anything, and have decided to do this, together, because it’s the most compelling thing they could find to work on.

Data is an integral part of Aspire’s business model.
Like a fintech company, Aspire succeeds largely on the basis of its ability to segment and address risk. Algorithms and supporting data infrastructure play a key role in the company's growth and operating efficiency.

I like the idea of building one of the pillars of the company, rather than an R&D lab or a sub-group within analytics or marketing. There’s nothing wrong with those roles. But given the choice, I prefer to stay closer to the action.

Aspire is poised to shape the future of preventative medicine.
Aspire's first major data challenge is to identify patients who have unnecessary hospitalizations in their future, on a 1-to-2-year horizon. We have to do this for many patients, based on complex, messy input data (administrative records, medical notes), over different time scales (years, weeks, days.)

To do the job right, we’re going to need to blend skills and best practices across disciplines that don’t often talk to each other: applied statistics and research design, scalable data architecture, health IT, and the medical practice of palliative care. It’s a steep learning curve that demands a lot of ingenuity.

Aspire's second major data challenge is to coordinate care from doctors, nurses, social workers, and others, to actively prevent complications that can lead to unnecessary hospitalization. In a market still dominated by fee-for-service medicine, this is rare and exciting. We're going to see more of it, though, and Aspire is one of the teams leading the way.



Long story short, as a data guy who loves working on human-scale problems, Aspire is perfect. There's a lot I need to learn about health care and medicine, and I'm looking forward to learning, growing, and building in this new role.

More to come!



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