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Team Opat: Attacking The Opioid Epidemic With Data-Driven Solutions

Summary: 
Some problems are so huge that they demand the audacity, tenacity, and flexibility of small teams. Bruce Greenstein, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, brought this truth to the forefront last week when the Office of the CTO held the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon at HHS Headquarters in the heart of Washington, D.C.
OPAT team photo
Photo by Will Kim

This blog post was adapted from a blog post by the author.

Some problems are so huge that they demand the audacity, tenacity, and flexibility of small teams. Bruce Greenstein, Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, brought this truth to the forefront last week when the Office of the CTO held the HHS Opioid Code-a-Thon at HHS Headquarters in the heart of Washington, D.C. The event gathered more than 50 teams from around the country to develop innovative ways to combat the nation's worsening opioid epidemic.

With Opioid Overdoses established as the leading cause of death for Americans under the age of 50, it's hard to imagine a more daunting test of teamwork, technology, and data.

Teams from multinational entities like IBM Watson competed alongside consulting firms, data startups, universities, and groups of passionate individuals who came together specifically for the event. Everyone shared the same goal: to protect and support Americans threatened by the opioid epidemic through innovative uses of data. The teams were split between tracks centered on prevention, treatment, and usage reduction. After coding through the night, the gauntlet was thrown down and teams were called on to pitch the fruits of their labor in presentations lasting less than 5 minutes.

In the end, our team won the Usage track. We did so in part by focusing on helping the people who control a patient's first exposure to opioids.

Our Opioid Prescribing Awareness Tool (OPAT) focused on the challenges faced by the healthcare professionals who must make critical decisions in prescribing what proves for too many to be the ultimate "gateway drug."" We sought to borrow from the lessons of American Special Operations, converting CMS's vast data sets into actionable intelligence and pushing that information down to those making decisions on the front lines. Our tool enables prescribers to see:

  • their prescribing behavior relative to that of others in their specialty, both in-state and nationally,
  • abnormally heavy opioid prescribers among the network of physicians to whom they refer patients,
  • clinics for multimodal pain management and addiction treatment in their area along with contact information, and
  • links to their state opioid registry to facilitate detection of "doctor shopping" behavior

...all of this information found for the roughly 4 seconds of effort required to type in their National Provider Identifier.

While I remain in awe of the brilliance of our Data Science & Development team, Jarrod Parker and Cameron Yick from New York data startup Enigma Technologies, no one could argue that the rest of the team was smarter than the competition. In fact, two members of our team didn't write a single line of code. One didn't even own a laptop. This may sound like a strange recipe for success at a CODE-a-thon, but it is consistent with the best of what I saw in US Special Operations serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. John Cronin's decade of experience as an emergency room nurse and health system consultant gave us an edge in understanding the end user that cannot be quantified in lines of javascript. Rob Martin's eye for detail and consummate managerial skills kept us on track through the low hours of the night and made sure the caffeination didn't ebb. I tried to channel the circadian rhythm-busting tactics of my flying days and help keep our guys pulling in the same direction. Our team was weird, and that weirdness let us adapt to feedback and craft our solution around a critical pain point.

We are extremely grateful to HHS CTO Bruce Greenstein, HHS Chief Data Officer, Dr. Mona Siddiqui, and their entire team for putting together such a groundbreaking effort. We'd also like to thank track sponsors Alteryx and the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for supporting the event and providing the prize money that will help fund the early stages of our tool's development. We hope this event marks the first of many in which HHS and its partners reach out with data, diverse problem solvers, and decidedly nontraditional approaches to saving American lives.

For more information on the OPAT tool, please contact Alex Rich at alex.rich@unc.edu

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Health Data