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March 26, 2018

Data-driven optimization to improve mobile healthcare in disadvantaged communities

Advancing spatial science and predictive analytics to help mobile clinics reach those who need them most

The overall goal of this National Science Foundation (NSF)-supported project is to optimize and implement a data-based program to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of mobile health clinics. Led by health economist Rigoberto Delgado, of the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, a team of researchers wants to help Texas Children's Hospital and other providers target their limited resources where they can do the most good.

The team is mining public domain data in new ways, using geospatial mapping science and predictive analytics to forecast areas of highest risk for outbreaks. The researchers want to figure out not only where to send the mobile health clinics, but ultimately, how to prevent illness outbreaks in the first place and reduce the number of emergency room visits.

Delgado's colleague on the project, optimization expert Jiming Peng, of the University of Houston, is assisting with the modeling, algorithm design and analysis. "We're designing a way to predict the future demand for mobile clinic services in various communities, based on new modeling that uses many data sets from different sources," explains Peng. "And, a challenging issue is that all the optimization models developed in the project have binary variables with uncertain parameters and constraints due to the numerical errors in the process of data analysis, and the dynamic nature of the target population."

But, the researchers have already identified communities with high demand for some specific mobile clinic services in Houston and made recommendations to their hospital partners. Ultimately, they hope to reduce healthcare costs and disparities by identifying policies and strategies to encourage comprehensive and collaborative programs of mobile health units in Texas and across the United States.

The research in this episode was supported by NSF award #1637347, Increasing Healthcare Access to At-risk Populations: Research-based Policies for Mobile Health Clinics.

Miles O'Brien, Science Nation Correspondent
Kate Tobin, Science Nation Producer

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations presented in this material are only those of the presenter grantee/researcher, author, or agency employee; and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.