MITRE Interns Aim to Improve Health Outcomes

October 2019
Health Interns
MITRE interns Heather Halter, Priyank Madria, Vanessa Li, and Andrea Benson

Analyzing data to help fight the opioid crisis. Developing models so doctors can more effectively treat cancer patients. Improving interoperable healthcare records systems software.

What do these have in common? They're all health projects MITRE interns worked on this summer. There's no busywork here—instead, the students put their academics into practice to help find solutions to some of the large-scale problems in healthcare today.

As the operator of the federally funded research and development center (FFRDC) sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services, MITRE has a fundamental role in the transformation of healthcare, public and population health, and social services across our nation.  That's a key factor in attracting interns here.

"I worked on high-impact and challenging projects with extremely talented individuals and mentors," says Priyank Madria, a Georgia Tech graduate student. "There's a wealth of knowledge at MITRE that helps interns learn about the many different areas and problems in healthcare in an open-lab environment."

Patient Database Improves Treatments

Madria and fellow interns Mick O'Hanlon and Robi Scalfani used Synthea™—a MITRE-created synthetic patient data generator—to help advance the quality of healthcare through modeling and data analytics.

Madria and O'Hanlon, a senior at the University of Virginia, created a breast cancer model for Synthea. They later created a prototype that identifies where a patient is in a detailed cancer treatment plan, known as a pathway, and what the next steps are. The goal was to help determine optimal treatment patterns based on where patients are in the pathway. 

Scalfani, a senior at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, examined insurance companies' role in Synthea. He analyzed how different health insurance policies affect a person’s quality of life, using measures of quality-adjusted life years, disability-adjusted life years, and years of life lost.

Anthony DiDonato, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon, researched a more efficient prior-authorization process between healthcare payers and providers. He also looked for potential gaps in mCODE™—a model of minimal common data elements for improving cancer care co-developed by MITRE. 

Data That's Interoperable and Fast

While electronic health records (EHRs) have helped improved the coordination and quality of care, FHIR—Fast Health Interoperability Resource—is setting a new standard for the interoperability of EHRs.

Nicole Kennedy, a junior at Tufts University, worked on Inferno, a testing software that helps developers implement the HL7 Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources. Early on she integrated new features into the user interface of the website. She later contributed to the design of a FHIR-based application programming interface (API).

Jake O’Donnell helped develop the FHIR Implementation Guide and the FHIR API for improving integration with EHR systems and assessment software. He also created the reference web app client and tested it with the Inferno software.

Finding Patterns in the Over-Prescription of Opioids

Other interns supported MITRE's policy and data analytics research in the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services State Engagement to Address Opioid Overprescribing and Misuse project. 

Heather Halter, a graduate student from University of California, Berkeley, researched opioid prescribing behaviors to support MITRE data scientists. In addition, she helped create a process flow diagram and narrative to identify intervention strategies for prescribers with abnormal prescribing practices. 

Vanessa Li, a graduate student at the University of Washington, analyzed data from New Hampshire's all-payer claims database to capture trends in prescription patterns and non-fatal opioid overdoses in the state. 

Another graduate student from Tufts, Daniel Berman, worked with New Hampshire's claims data to better understand and define key phases of opioid use. Specifically, he examined how prescribing patterns change in the various stages of an opioid addiction. 

Future Opportunities

As these interns demonstrated, MITRE internships give students the opportunity to contribute to solving some of the large-scale problems in healthcare today. And they'll take their hands-on experience back to school with them. 

With more than 500 students located at MITRE's main campuses and over 20 sites across the nation, the interns in this article represent only a small fraction of our summer internship program. Visit MITRE's Student Programs and campus recruiting events pages to learn more about our many intern programs and opportunities.

—by Kay M. Upham

Interested in becoming a MITRE intern? View our Job Openings or read more about our Student Programs.