Harnessing Data to Get Ahead of a Public Health CrisisJune 2017
Routine visits to the pharmacy took on new meaning—personally and professionally—for MITRE's Jaya Tripathi in 2010. The analytics expert was helping a family member recover from a skiing accident and had to pick up the same pain medication every week for almost two months.
"The medication was a controlled substance, so the pharmacy was required to fill the prescription weekly instead of monthly," Tripathi says. "This law was unfamiliar to me."
The experience inspired Tripathi to pursue a new research focus: fraud and abuse of prescription painkillers. Specifically, she wanted to better connect the dots among prescribers, pharmacists, and patients. Tripathi was already familiar with the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program (PDMP), a system U.S. states use to track where, when, and in what dosages controlled substances are dispensed. She realized that PDMP data had untapped potential.
"Descriptive analytics were being employed on PDMP data already but I wanted to employ advanced techniques like predictive analytics to align with prevention and intervention," she says. "When certain classes of drugs are combined with opioids, for example, it creates a very dangerous cocktail. Tracking the dispensing of this drug combination could help save lives."
In 2014, 50,000 people died from a drug overdose of which more than half involved opioids, the class of euphoria-inducing drugs that includes heroin and a host of powerful, legal pain relievers. Tripathi, a data analytics scientist, knew there was a way to apply big data techniques to help stem this public-health crisis.
Working with a MITRE team with expertise in areas such as health IT, geo-spatial analytics and graph analytics, Tripathi developed the Fraud Investigator's Analytic Tool, or FIAT. The web-based prototype is an actionable tool that identifies "potentially bad" prescribers. It's built around a core model that is designed to work with standard prescription data elements. It can generate graphs and a risk score, showing spikes in doses or red flags in prescription combinations, prescriptions filled in multiple locations, and more.
"We can create heat maps to show hot spots of prescription drug activity," Tripathi explains. "These had not been used before to track dangerous drug combinations." She has presented her work at events such as Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, the giant health IT conference.
The state of Indiana is piloting FIAT while Tripathi and her colleagues continue to refine the tool.
In researching prescription drug abuse, Tripathi noticed people buying and selling drugs anonymously using digital and virtual currencies. That led her to another area of study: the cryptocurrency economy. Tripathi has explored ways these currencies can facilitate criminal activity.
Information Sharing for Solutions
Opportunities to collaborate and explore different sets of challenges are two of the main factors keeping Tripathi at MITRE.
"I appreciate that you can reach out to colleagues with a vast array of expertise in many different domains," says Tripathi, who joined MITRE in 2004 on the recommendation of MITRE employee she met in a leadership course. "And I've never seen anything like our innovation program. It fosters creativity and originality," she says of the company's internal research and development program.
Early on, Tripathi worked on the back-end processes of MITRE's internal infrastructure systems. She helped create the research and phonebook features of the company's award-winning intranet.
When she wanted to turn to more sponsor-facing work, she moved to a different MITRE operating center and began working on new challenges, including telehealth, social media analysis, patient consent, and physician credentialing.
A Thirst for Information
A love of learning is a theme in Tripathi's life.
"As a student, I would take copious notes on things that interested me," says Tripathi, who grew up in Delhi, India. "I'd go to the British Council Library and the American Library and study beyond my coursework. I researched things like photovoltaics, just for fun. I was an avid reader and represented my high school and college for quiz competitions."
Tripathi's interest turned to quantum mechanics and then particle physics in graduate school at the University of Texas. She later worked for several multinational corporations, including the airline industry and a major telecommunications company.
"One interesting project was predicting customer churn," says Tripathi. "Back then, processing two million records was a big deal. We needed expensive equipment and software to do analytics on the data. Now I can easily process 12 million records on my laptop."
Enjoying the Balance
"I think the work-life balance at MITRE makes employees happier," Tripathi says. "When you like your work, it's no longer a job. You do it because you love it."
Tripathi has had several mentors along her career path, but she counts her mother and grandmother as significant role models.
"The women in my family have inspired me the most," she says. "They faced challenges growing up in an India that was under British rule, and made many sacrifices. My mom had to end her career abruptly and was always happy that her daughters were able to continue their careers while raising their families."
—by Karina Wright
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