October 26, 2022

The Digital Health Institute for Transformation (DHIT) hosted another chapter of our rotating Happy Hour series on a crisp, autumn evening at Raleigh Founded, a preeminent innovation and entrepreneurship hub in the Triangle. DHIT was joined by an engaging audience of digital health transformers to learn from Dr. Jessie Tenenbaum, PhD, the Chief Data Officer for the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) and faculty member at Duke University’s Department of Biostatistics and Bioinformatics. Dr. Tenenbaum is a biomedical data scientist, and her inspiring journey has taken her from academia to public health and research to practice in an organization dedicated to the betterment of society at scale. Dr. Tenenbaum’s passion for data-driven decision-making, addressing the non-clinical drivers of health, mental health, data sharing, and ethical, legal, and social issues around big data in biomedicine shined through in a fireside chat with DHIT’s Michael Levy. Check out some of the highlights from the conversation below!

What were the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic within the NCDHHS?

“Initially, we were focused on compiling data around the number of tests delivered and the positive/negative results through phone calls with LabCorp and other testing agencies and filtering it into a dashboard to be delivered to the public every day. So early conversations were had on how to automate and scale that largely manual process. Ultimately, we transformed from our initial infancy emailing PDFs every day to a much more streamlined, automated, and mature enterprise data warehouse and dashboard hosted in the cloud. It was highly manual for the first month or two but slowly became more automated as the pandemic progressed.”

What is happening within the NCDHHS now that the COVID-19 waters have calmed?

“A big focus of ours now is picking back up the Healthy Opportunities initiative beyond Medicaid and focusing on whole person health, non-clinical drivers of health, and overall health equity across the state. It’s not just a tagline or lip service, it is fundamental to our strategy.”

What is the current status of AI model development within the NCDHHS to track against community engagement, health equity, etc?

“When the NCDHHS created the Chief Data Officer position they likely were envisioning innovation around predictive models and big data analytics – but there is so much that needs to be done before then. Areas like data collection, quality, governance, storage, and visualization are all incredibly important stepping stones that need to happen first and then the luxury of those models that control for things like implicit bias will come to fruition. Right now, we are just at the beginning of our journey doing things that are not that sexy such as record linkage/entity resolution – working to connect records across different divisions like mental health, Medicaid, social services, etc.”

We are extremely grateful to Dr. Tenenbaum for the enlightening and thought-provoking discussion. Make sure to RSVP for the next happy hour event in downtown Durham at American Underground on November 16th from 5:30-7:30 PM. We will be hosting a delegation from Montreal and focusing on the evolution of our respective Health Innovation Districts, and how we can work together to continue moving the needle of digital transformation in healthcare.

For more information about DHIT’s mission, events, and partnership opportunities, subscribe to our email list!

Talk soon!