The Data Scientist - the WPC Healthcare Blog

The Buzz on Summertime (Practical) Data Science


At WPC Healthcare, we like the idea of making Data Science practical for all aspects of healthcare—both public and within the walls of a hospital or clinical. As the stifling heat of summer arrives and the mosquitoes begin to buzz, West Nile virus becomes top of mind for patients, providers and public health officials.

First, the facts—

  1. West Nile virus–related hospitalizations and follow-up in the United States cost $778 million in healthcare expenses and lost productivity from 1999 through 2012.
  2. Institutions can leverage Data Science to predict West Nile virus in mosquitoes.
  3. Tennessee had its first case of human West Nile virus in 2002 (followed by 55 other cases that same year).

West Nile virus is most commonly spread to humans through infected mosquitoes. Around 20% of people who become infected with the virus develop symptoms ranging from a persistent fever, to serious neurological illnesses that can result in death. In 1999 the first human cases of West Nile virus were reported in US cities. By 2004 many city departments of public health had established a comprehensive surveillance and control program that is still in effect today.

Introducing Data Science: The WPC Healthcare Method

Our Data Science team has been hard at work on an algorithm to predictively identify locations where West Nile is likely to become an issue. Although this actually is our idea of fun, it is also a practical method of applying data to healthcare issues. The result may be that residents can be warned to take precautions against mosquito bites, such as using repellent and staying indoors or cleaning up standing water.

The Approach

Given weather, location, testing and spraying data, Data Science is applied to predict when and where different species of mosquitoes, as vectors for carrying the virus to humans, will test positive for West Nile virus. By creating a more accurate method of predicting outbreaks, cities and their departments of public health can more efficiently and effectively allocate resources toward preventing transmission of this potentially deadly virus.

In addition, families can protect themselves more aggressively and providers can be better prepared to treat the (at times) serious issues that are created from West Nile. By connecting the dots, Data Science prepares patients, providers and public health officials in addressing a serious issue.

Although the value of Data Science has yet to be widely realized in healthcare, WPC is taking a leadership role in proactively reaching out to apply our skills to real healthcare problems.