Look Who’s Doing Big Data in Nova Scotia: The Rounds

What kind of data are you working with?

The Rounds is often called a ‘social network,’ and while our members don’t talk about their vacations, or their children or pets, it is ‘social’ in one very important way. Through social graphs, we mine data that measures interactions between physicians. These doctors are collaborating across specialties and around the country. Because of that, we can dig deep into their demographics and behaviors (read: who’s talking about what, where are they, and why does that matter?).
What kinds of analytics are you using?
We might, for instance, analyze a specific key word or topic; like juvenile diabetes. We can determine what demographic of doctors are most engaged around that topic. Is it rural female physicians between the ages of 40 and 50? We can analyze this by what they’re saying in posts, what they’re reading in journals, how influential they are among their peers, and in some cases we can identify their sentiment around a given treatment.
What are the problems your company/project/group is interested in solving?
We offer physicians better, faster access to the information (best practices, relevant articles, etc.) and the experts they need to deliver world-class care to every patient.
There are many barriers to communication among healthcare practitioners in Canada, and we’re pulling down the walls to accelerate sharing, collaboration, and generally democratizing the way physicians communicate.
How did you get involved in your line of work?
From an early age, I had a profound interest in numbers, patterns, and statistics. I was drawn to study mathematics in University. While studying, I realized that not only were stats and big data exciting to work with, but that there is a real opportunity to apply my passion and knowledge to transform the way healthcare is delivered in Canada… and some day on a global scale. It’s hard not to be drawn to that.
What are you most proud of in your work?
I know that every day when I drive into the office, I’m living on the leading edge of eHealth. Every line of code we write helps physicians be better at their jobs. We are connecting 74,000 doctors, but the end result will be much-improved healthcare for 35 million Canadians. And I get to work with a team who are all driven by that same goal.
What are the biggest challenges in your line of analytics?
Big data, in general, can be very intimidating. The difficulty is rarely in finding the data, rather the challenge is not being buried and overwhelmed by it all.
We have specific challenges beyond that, given the delicate nature of the data we’re handling. Privacy surrounding personal information is always an important consideration; with us, doubly-so. The information that we deal with might potentially contain sensitive and intimate personal details, and people begin to feel uncomfortable with having that information analyzed, even after if is aggregated and anonymized.
What’s the best advice you can give someone interested in getting involved in a career in Big Data?
There’s a long list of skills you need, courses and degrees (statistics chief among them), but the biggest piece of the puzzle is patience.

Learn, know and understand Statistics very well, and have an ample supply of patience! A passion for both Mathematics and Computer Science is also a requirement.

While there is a clear race to see who can make the most meaning of big data (in any field), there is still a long way to go until the dream of what big data can do is achieved. That is, the data must first be collected, then shared, analyzed, and then we must figure out how to make the results actionable.

Big data is not just about aggregating data; it’s almost as though you’re following millions of breadcrumbs – from among all that is known – to find meaningful, actionable patterns. This doesn’t happen over night, so patience is a prerequisite.

What’s the best thing about doing Big Data in Nova Scotia that you want to share with the world?
Nova Scotia is uniquely positioned in Canada, and globally, as we have we access to world-class minds and thought leaders through the many universities and organizations in close proximity. Looking at Dalhousie’s Institute for Big Data Analytics paints a clear picture of that.
Beyond the brain-power, there is great support from the Provincial and Federal Governments. That comes in the form of programs, funding, and advisory services.
Finally, there is something particularly rewarding about the realization that we can build a world-class organization from home. We don’t need to be in Toronto, or San Francisco, or Boston. With the regional community we have in Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada is great to be a part of.


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