Technology and Data in Public Health—A [Very] Brief Millennial Perspective

This June I will be celebrating my two year anniversary with LiveStories, my first real job since graduating in 2017, and since officially entering the workforce I have done a lot of reflecting on how I got here. So, in honor of National Public Health Week I thought I’d write a very brief perspective post on what I have learned while working with data and public health.

Now a little background on the company. LiveStories is a data software designed to enable people to easily access, analyze, and publish data. This sounds simple enough right? And maybe kinda useful? Well instantly I became intrigued with the mission of our CEO and his big dream of building an all encompassing data library—so I joined the team.

A little about myself. I earned a degree in medical anthropology + global health as well as evolutionary biology from the University of WA here in Seattle. Through these studies I learned first hand the role that data plays in public health. Whether it is data collection, data analysis, or data dissemination these millions of informative points help create a picture of health, in any given community—Now enough with the boring stuff.

Since starting at the company I have been attracted to the sheer power of the tool. Too many times did I have to go through tons of CDC BRFSS data and create reports on a given community’s overall health...and to be honest in 2019 we should have a better solution than hours on Microsoft Excel.

As I got to know the product and I slowly learned more about the realm of data, it became clear that this subsection of the health field has a lot of maturing to do. Epidemiology is the data heavy office within many health departments and as it has evolved we have used science to calculating the health of a community. But, as technology has advanced we have failed to apply it to improve data processes; may they be around collecting, analyzing, or publishing the data. There are many ways in which technology can immensely improve the data collection and analysis processes, many of which I hope are being explored as I write this piece.

Although my own company is in the business of data communication (which includes storing, visualizing, and publishing data) we also encounter challenges, even despite the numerous engineers we have handling the back end. These challenges come in the form of formatting large data sets, de-identifying data, and normalizing locally captured data being submitted to us from different customers—none of which are small tasks.

Now I don’t want your takeaway from this to be that the relationship between data and technology is bad by any means, because technology enables data processes everyday—the question we are asking is: How can we do better?

As I reflect on my two years at LiveStories, the parts that stick out to me most are:

  • The energy in the office to see data empower people, it’s palpable at times.

  • The amazing people I get to surround myself with daily.

  • The excitement of knowing we are working towards creating a more data driven society.

That being said, there are many things I look forward to encounter in the next year to come. Like ramping up for a series B funding round, growing the engineering team to empower our customers to do more, and developing a better understanding of how else data can help communities across the U.S.

Happy Public Health Week Everyone!