For a field with such profound potential to improve the world we live in, data science has had trouble making its way into the public consciousness. This might be because most people’s interactions with data science are distinctly uninspiring, usually in the form of online advertising or recommendation algorithms.
But there have always been data science applications that have strayed away from profit maximization, and these solutions often attempt to solve societal problems with data-driven solutions. One of the fields that is rapidly beginning to incorporate data science methods is the world of healthcare. The experience and intuition of a human doctor are crucial to quality healthcare, but data science can be used to help doctors make better decisions.
Eric Williams, Vice President of Data Science and Analytics at Omada Health, says his team is using data science to facilitate behavioral change—specifically weight loss—in chronic disease prevention and treatment. Williams said that technological advancements have eased data collection and allowed Omada to accurately link weight loss to effective treatments.
Currently, much of our health data is self-reported, making it hard for doctors to receive consistent and accurate information. “One of the really unique aspects of this program, from a data perspective, is that participants receive wireless scales… They step on a scale, and it automatically sends us their weight log,” Williams said.
Williams also noted that data science principles drive the idea of self-learning healthcare. Instead of rolling out a broad program to everyone, he said Omada’s program interprets a patient’s data—usually age, gender, and lifestyle—and then recommends adjustments that are based on plans that have been successful for patients with a similar profile.
Williams continued, “You can make a parallel with Netflix here. The more Netflix users watching movies, the better the recommendation algorithms are going to be… We’re doing the same thing here. The more participants we have, the more effective we can be at facilitating healthy behavior change, because we’re constantly refining the program. It’s a self-learning, self-improving system that’s going to, in a data-driven way, develop the most effective behavior change process, based on weight loss outcomes.”
While it might be tempting to imagine the proliferation of data science resulting in a cold, automated world, Williams argues that the future of data science is much less scary, and a lot more civic minded. While the number crunching is done by data science programs, patients at Omada are still paired with health coaches and small support groups, positions that still require a human touch. Furthermore, Williams sees data science as the key to tackling societal issues.
Williams concluded, “I hope data science starts reaching healthcare more broadly… I think there is a lot of opportunity in this field, and we’re just scratching the surface.”