Making data science accessible

Meet Bibo Hao, an IBM research scientist from Beijing, China. Bibo and IBM Health Corps team are working with CARE India to build a proof of concept platform that integrates disparate data sets and provides actionable visualizations in order to assist decision makers like civil surgeons and state bureaucrats in more efficiently managing the essential drug supply chain.

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Tell us a little about yourself and how you came to work in health.

I grew up in a very small town in the middle part of China and when I was 5 or 6 years old, I caught a cold and couldn’t stop coughing. So I went to the local hospital and at that time I was misdiagnosed with tuberculosis. I was in the hospital for several weeks, following the treatment plan. But my parents still were worried about my condition. They took me to a hospital in a bigger city, and the doctors at the hospital said I had pneumonia, not tuberculosis.

So when I think of that experience, I feel that health is important. I didn’t realized what it meant to my parents when their son was diagnosed with TB. At that time in China, health care quality was poor. A tuberculosis diagnosis could have meant losing their son. That experience inspired me to work on healthcare.

So after finishing my education in computer science, when I was seeking a job, the healthcare team’s work at IBM Research China really attracted me. At IBM, I’m working to apply data science and a data-driven approach to healthcare decision-making, especially for primary care. For example, predicting which patients are more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, so that we can help doctors provide proper care as early as possible.

How are you approaching this project for Health Corps, and what are your hopes for how this work goes forward?

Hopefully many people can use this data science platform we’re creating in Bihar. For example, first it’s for the data scientists. We can provide them with documents and tools to use the algorithms and proper program components to analyze the data and derive insights. And second I’m making the platform easier to use by non-data scientists. I’m building a wizard view, so the user does not need to program. They just select some parameters and click buttons, and derive insights from the data. With this, data science will become more accessible to many users. This will give more people a whole picture of what’s happening. They will see things they had never seen or thought about before.

What can we do to help have adoption of the platform?

There’s a gap between technology development and technology adoption. “Data science” has been a buzz world in the tech world, and now data science is something that is used mostly by data scientists or geeks. So we’re building a software as a service platform and creating 1) a user interface that is easy to use, so you don’t have to write code to access the algorithms, and 2) we are articulating best practices and framework so we can tell users (like doctors and business analysts) what we are doing, why we are doing this, why it’s a scientific and rational approach.

We need to demonstrate the value of the technology and how it can help people. If we can show how with this platform and investment, you can save lives and relieve people’s pain, people will realize it’s worthwhile to invest in this.

So can I (interviewer Natalie, a non-technical person) use the platform?

Sure! Imagine data science is like the DOS system built by Bill Gates. What Bill Gates did was build the operating system of Microsoft Windows, and Windows had an easy to use interface so you can operate your computer easily with those windows and buttons. So I’m bridging that gap too so many users can use the data science. It’s not just some theory. It can be used by anyone.

What did you know about the Indian health system before coming here?

I didn’t know what it was like before coming here. Chinese people believe that in India, the drugs are cheap because they have a different patent system than us. But I found it’s another landscape. People in some areas can’t even have basic level of health care and medical treatment. Some of them can’t even get their drugs in time. They suffer because they can’t have the proper drugs.

What are you taking away from this project?

Passion. When I am working in China, most of the time I’m not faced with people in poor conditions. Now in Bihar, when I’m doing field visits in district hospitals I find that there is a lot of room for improvement. I see that, I feel that. There are a lot of people in desperate need for improvement in healthcare. So when I go back to China, I hope that my work can help many people in this world.

The Indian government has an ambition is to provide free basic care to people in India. I think this is a great ambition. It’s my honor to contribute my experience and expertise to this initiative.

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