By Data-Smart City Solutions • June 20, 2017

Our #DataSmart News series curates relevant news from our #ThisWeekInData posts for updates on different policy areas and civic data topics.

June 16, 2017: Using Data to Fight the Opioid Epidemic

Prescription drug monitoring programs—government-run databases designed to track how doctors and pharmacists in a state prescribe and dispense controlled substances—have immense potential to mitigate the opioid crisis, according to an article by GovTech. These programs can help identify who is prescribing and being prescribed controlled substances in order to direct interventions to combat abuse. The article calls on state lawmakers who have dragged their feet in implementing effective monitoring to look at successes in states like New York and Florida as evidence of the critical need for these programs.

June 12, 2017: GIS platform puts Miami-Dade ‘leaps and bounds ahead’ for mosquito season, officials say

StateScoop reported that, thanks to GIS technology, county officials in Miami-Dade County feel much more prepared for the quickly approaching mosquito season. Following last summer's Zika outbreak, the county worked with GIS provider Esri to develop 20 new apps, including maps that identify mosquito trap locations, mobile field applications that allow workers to input data immediately via iPad, and desktop components that receive and log this information in real time. These applications allow residents to report Zika outbreaks and standing water and provides municipal employees with tools to better target interventions.

May 9, 2017: Visualizing Baltimore’s Food Deserts

The Johns Hopkins Center for a Liveable Future has created a Maryland Food System Map, which displays disparities in food access across the state. The map plots production, distribution, processing, and consumption within Maryland’s food system across 175 data layers based principally on data from federal, state, and local databases. Officials hope that they can use the map to identify food deserts and target interventions. Read more at Route Fifty.

May 2, 2017: Mapping neighborhood-level health indicators

GCN profiled an interactive mapping application released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that displays neighborhood-level data on chronic diseases for the 500 largest cities in the country. The tool is part of the CDC’s 500 Cities initiative, which provides small-area estimates of 27 chronic disease measures. The CDC hopes that public health professionals, policymakers, and researchers will use the application to address and target interventions to areas where they are most needed.  

April 19, 2017: How Cities Are Using the Internet of Things to Map Air Quality

Chris Bousquet wrote an article for Data-Smart outlining and evaluating the various models cities have employed to track air quality using the Internet of Things (IoT). Air quality initiatives fall into three categories: initiatives that add sensors to existing infrastructure, those that leverage mobile sensors, and others that analyze cell phone data. Each model has advantages and drawbacks, and a city’s choice of initiative should depend on its unique needs and capabilities.

March 9, 2017: The virtual assistant for the VA

GCN highlighted a voice-activated virtual assistant created by electronic health records firm Epic in partnership with tech company Nuance that intends to improve service at the Department of Veterans Affairs. The virtual assistant, called Florence, guides patients through picking their doctor and shows them openings in that doctor’s schedule, promising to reduce the administrative load of physicians and make scheduling easier for users with impaired vision or poor motor skills.

February 23, 2017: New Yelp-style app for veterans calls out poor care

StateScoop discussed a tool called that allows veterans to submit Yelp-style reviews of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities. The free app allows users to search for medical facilities via an interactive map and submit rankings on a scale of 1 to 5. The goal is to give veterans a voice to express concerns with facilities, guide veterans to quality medical centers, and put pressure on the VA to institute higher quality standards.

February 15, 2017: 40 Largest U.S. Cities Get a Health Rating

Next City described findings from a two-year analysis by the de Beaumont Foundation’s CityHealth project that evaluated the 40 largest U.S. cities based on their efforts to improve the health and well-being of citizens. The study examined how cities fare across nine policies including paid sick days, universal and high-quality pre-K, affordable housing and access to health food, and then assigned bronze, silver, or gold medals or no medal at all. The five gold medal recipients were New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston, and Washington, D.C.

February 1, 2017: Moving Patient Data Is Messy, But Blockchain Is Here to Help

Wired examined the potential to use blockchain—a tool that keeps secure data in a distributed, encrypted ledger—to move and protect patients’ medical data. Blockchain has immense security benefits, because instead of having one administrator as a gatekeeper to the data, the ledger is spread across a network of databases visible to those with access. What this means is that hacking one block in the chain is impossible without hacking every block. Adopting blockchain would allow healthcare providers to store a patient’s every healthcare interaction in a ledger that every provider can see, making data sharing seamless. 

January 16, 2017: How Big Data Helps To Tackle The No 1 Cause Of Accidental Death In the U.S.

Forbes detailed a partnership between the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee (BCBST) and data analytics company Fuzzy Logix to tackle the opioid crisis using data. The project leveraged years’ worth of pharmacy and claims data to identify people at risk of developing an opioid abuse problem. Analysts determined that clusters of behaviors like frequent use of different prescribers and dispensaries could predict later abuse or misuse issues with up to 85% accuracy.

January 12, 2017: How U.S. Cities Can Target Zika Risk

On Data-Smart, Jonathon Jay analyzed the relationship between abandoned properties and Zika outbreaks in Miami. His analysis concluded that Zika took hold in neighborhoods already experiencing high rates of residential vacancy and concentrated poverty. Abandoned properties provide ideal breeding conditions for Aedes aegypti, the mosquitos that carry the Zika virus, and poverty often precludes residents from taking precautionary measures against mosquitos. Breaking down data siloes will be particularly important in Zika prevention, as while mosquito control activities generally fall under county jurisdiction, city agencies have information that’s central to addressing vacant properties.

January 4, 2017: Babylon Health partners with UK’s NHS to replace telephone helpline with AI-powered chatbot

TechCrunch showcased Babylon Health’s AI-powered chatbot, which will begin a six month trial with the National Health Service (NHS) as an alternative to the NHS’s 111 hotline. Instead of speaking to an NHS operator, patients will chat with Babylon’s chatbot, which will allow them to check symptoms instantly and obtain appropriate advice. The hope is that this software will provide more accurate advice and avoid unnecessary doctor appointments.

November 15, 2016: Google Street View Car Sniffs Out Hidden Danger in Pittsburgh

Route Fifty reported on the use of a Google Street View car to detect potentially dangerous methane leaks in Pittsburgh. The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) deployed a Street View vehicle equipped with a methane-detection sensor, which over the past year has identified 200 indications of leaks from Peoples Natural Gas pipes in six Pittsburgh neighborhoods. EDF launched similar studies in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, and Jacksonville, discovering a greater concentration of leaks in Boston (one per mile driven) than in Pittsburgh (one per two miles driven). Based on this data, Pittsburgh plans to replace all its bare metal pipes in the next five to seven years, a project that cities like Boston may soon consider.

November 14, 2016: How Digital Campaigns Can Help Reduce Infant Mortality Rates

GovDelivery outlined potential ways digital campaigns could reduce infant mortality. The infant mortality rate in the U.S. is nearly double that of other developing countries, and GovDelivery explains that the principal cause is a lack of information on the part of citizens. By gathering and disseminating data on preconception, prenatal, and postnatal health of mothers and babies, governments can achieve better outcomes. However, successful campaigns must involve clear goals, expanded reach achieved through digital channels and targeted messaging, and input from citizens.

September 13, 2016: Rhode Island's Biggest-Ever IT Project Goes Live

Four years in the making, Rhode Island’s biggest-ever tech project, the “Unified Health Infrastructure Project” launched this week. The project will replace aging computer systems and will host a wide range of public assistance programs, including health care, childcare assistance, cash assistance, and the state’s food stamp program. Read about the project and its launch on GovTech.

September 8, 2016: How big data and algorithms are slashing the cost of fixing Flint’s water crisis

The Conversation highlighted a University of Michigan team that aggregated big data on Flint’s water issues and then employed algorithmic and statistical tools to analyze risks, challenges and the most cost-effective road to recovery for the city. Some takeaways from the project: 1) lead contamination is highly scattered and varies widely across Flint, but it is predictable; 2) statistical methods can help fill the data gap around Flint’s lead pipe records; 3) home service lines are not necessarily the largest driver of lead in Flint’s water. The researchers hope that a data-driven understanding of the crisis in Flint can help cut recovery costs and aim efforts to tackle lead concerns in other regions.

September 6, 2016: Study: Lyft partnership reduces costs, waiting times for chronically ill seniors

pilot collaboration between the ride service Lyft and a West Coast managed care delivery system successfully demonstrated the ability of such a partnership to reduce costs and waiting times for senior citizens with chronic illnesses. The preliminary results were released in a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association and showed the potential of ride services like Lyft to reduce the costs of non-emergency medical transportation.

August 24, 2016: Using Data Analytics and Mapping to Understand and Solve the Opiate Crisis

In an article for Data-Smart, Eric Bosco explored how data analytics and mapping can be used to understand and solve the opiate crisis. The National Association of Counties released an interactive map this summer that shows the staggering amount of overdoses nationwide and tracks opiate providers and filled prescriptions. The map, created by Esri, allows users to hone in on a specific county and compare numbers against national averages.

August 24, 2016: In Tackling Opioid Epidemic, Bold State Actions Needed for Data Analysis Efforts

Route Fifty wrote about the importance of data analytics when fighting opioid abuse. The article argues that while Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs have worked to significantly reduce opioid prescriptions and increased the usage of data in surrounding issues, they have not gone far enough and further data is needed to fully understand the extent of the opioid epidemic. Better legislation and policies could encourage better use and sharing of data, granting states a more complete view of the problem and helping them develop targeted strategic policies to fight it.

August 1, 2016: Leveraging Civic Data to Improve Public Health and Emergency Management

On Data-Smart, Margarett Scott investigated how civic data can be leveraged to improve public health and emergency management. Several recent advances in technology have made it possible for cities to better manage their preparedness and response through improved public health and emergency medicine systems, critical examples of how data and analytics can be used to enhance city operations. By integrating these emerging technologies and data analytics into public health and emergency management, cities can better understand the challenges at hand, mobilize the appropriate authorities prior to emergencies, and significantly improve public information and emergency response time during crises.

July 28, 2016: A new global hub for urban air-quality data

Citiscope profiled OpenAQ, a new international air quality data hub. Built by two researchers who had success with a similar local tool in Mongolia, the data hub currently has air quality information from over 650 cities across the world to help cities, health organizations, and researchers better understand, visualize, and explore relevant data. The researchers hope the new hub will be particularly useful in the Global South, where poor air quality is a pressing problem but many cities have little available data to help guide their policies.

July 27, 2016: Municipal Analytics, the Startup Way

Sean Thornton described how Montgomery County, Maryland, adapted Chicago's food-inspection predictive algorithm, yielding great results. Montgomery County was able to identify 27 percent more violations, on average, and do so three days sooner than traditional methods. That increased efficiency was estimated to recapture an estimated $2 million for Montgomery County in its first year alone. These results are significant, showing that such algorithms are not only effective, but effective in highly varied settings.

July 25, 2016: Check Out This Great Resource for County-Level Health Data

Route Fifty covered, a new county-specific portal containing nationwide data on a range of health-related topics. The site, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and managed by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, was built to allow policymakers, advocacy groups, and community stakeholders better understand the pressing health problems in their counties. Included datasets range from obesity rate to access to clinical care to child poverty.

July 7, 2016: Mapping Changed This County's Approach to Behavioral Health

Route Fifty surveyed San Bernadino County’s new GIS-based approach to behavioral health. The county began mapping consumers, clinic resources, and treatment data, which allowed officials to better understand why certain services were underutilized. County officials once believed it was because of the enduring stigma surrounding behavioral health care, but with the help of GIS data they realized it was at least partially because certain segments of the population had no easy access to care. The county was able to reallocate clinics and other key resources to improve countywide care, along with improving tracking of patients and connecting them to necessary care after hospitalizations.

June 26, 2016: MIT Researchers Aim to Conduct Health Checkup on City in Its Sewers

The Wall Street Journal reported on an MIT pilot project called Underworlds that is using robots to analyze sewage in Boston and Cambridge. The robots collect and test samples in sewers to identify infectious diseases, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and drugs with the hope of enabling better monitoring of population health in cities.

June 20, 2016: Taking Predictive Analytics to the Beach

On Data-Smart, Sean Thornton wrote about Chicago’s new analytical model to enhance its beach water quality inspection process. The model aims to predict which beaches may need to closed based on likely E. Coli contamination, which will help protect the public by providing more timely advisories. The tool is the not the city’s first municipal predictive analytics project, but it is the first one built entirely by a team of volunteers from Chicago’s civic tech community. The work of these civic-minded “citizen data scientists” signals a maturation in the relationship between Chicago’s local government and its civic tech community.