Business/Health Science Collaboration Aims to Improve Health Outcomes in Lowell

Business faculty members Nichalin Summerfield, Asil Oztekin and Karoline Evans Image by Ed Brennen
Manning School of Business faculty members, from left, Nichalin Summerfield, Asil Oztekin and Karoline Evans are collaborating with colleagues from the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences on a data analytics project with the Lowell Community Health Center.

By Ed Brennen

Researchers from the Manning School of Business and the Zuckerberg College of Health Sciences are collaborating with the Lowell Community Health Center to improve the well-being of the city’s most vulnerable adults — and ultimately lower health care costs. The tool they are using: Big Data analytics.

Assoc. Profs. Asil Oztekin (Operations & Information Systems) and Margaret Knight (Solomont School of Nursing) are leading the project, which recently won a $10,000 grant from the university’s InterDisciplinary Exchange & Advancement Initiative (IDEA) Leadership Fund. The project was one of five to receive IDEA funding.

The interdisciplinary project is called “A Holistic Data Analytic Modeling of Health Outcomes for Different Vulnerable Risk Groups of Adults in Lowell, Massachusetts.” The research team also includes Asst. Profs. Nichalin Summerfield (OIS), Karoline Evans (Management), Seung Eun Lee (Nursing) and Lee Ackerson (Public Health).

Researchers will mine data from sources such as the Centers for Disease Control’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System and the U.S. Census American Community Survey, as well as available data from the Lowell Community Health Center (LCHC). According to their proposal, they aim to identify “health-related associations which, when modeled by age groupings, will identify health and illness trajectories and quality of life” for Lowell residents.

“We are looking specifically at vulnerable, underserved populations in Lowell and using data mining techniques to model risk factors,” says Oztekin, whose team will use a quarter of the IDEA funding to hire two graduate research assistants — one from business and one from health sciences.

Team members from the Zuckerberg College will work with the LCHC to identify complex health outcomes that are associated with the population groups. 

“Social determinants of health, such as neighborhoods, education and economic status, as well as access to care, contribute significantly to health outcomes and the management of complex health problems,” Knight says.

By identifying at-risk populations early through clustering algorithms, the research work could influence public policy. Preventative healthcare measures such as exercise, education and therapy could be targeted to the at-risk groups, decreasing hospital readmission rates and, ultimately, reducing health care costs.

“Our goal is to show that using analytics-driven policy development, as opposed to anecdotal evidence or judgement-based policies, can have a significant impact on the quality of life of adults,” Oztekin says.

Summerfield will help develop simulation models to validate the patterns identified by the data mining methodology. Evans, meanwhile, is focused on the policy perspective.

“I want to find out what people in the community can learn from this and how they turn that into practice,” Evans says.

Oztekin hopes to attract external funding for the project, which would extend the work beyond its current 13-month timeframe (June 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019).

The collaborative project was spawned from a mini-grant program that began earlier this year between the business and health science faculty. Manning School Assoc. Dean Jennifer Percival and Zuckerberg College Assoc. Dean Deirdra Murphy coordinated the program.

“Jennifer and Deirdra helped us to get to know each other,” Oztekin says. “We used that as a nice baseline connection and built upon it.”

The IDEA Leadership Fund solicits proposals from associate professors to support innovative research, scholarly and interdisciplinary collaboration around a theme at the university.