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12/04/2012
DELPHI Project Foretells Future of Personalized Population Health

NSF Awards $2 Million Over Four Years to UC San Diego Computer Scientists and Physicians

Imagine a new type of healthcare app that does it all. It helps you understand your current health status, assists you in making changes in your life to improve your health, and takes into account the perspective of your entire life history, as well as the health of others in your age group – and perhaps even your neighborhood – who share similar characteristics.

That’s the vision put forward by a team of physicians and computer scientists at the University of California, San Diego, including the San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC), who are collaborating on a new digital resource that would take advantage of advances in databases, cyberinfrastructure and machine learning, to usher in a new era of health and health care.

“Patients, providers and consumers need to be empowered by apps and services that leverage the full range of data that are essential to health promotion, disease prevention and medical care. We characterize this as personalized population health,” said Kevin Patrick, a professor of family and preventive medicine in the UC San Diego School of Medicine.

“Opening up access to personal, medical, environmental and population-level data can enable designers and developers of the ever-increasing numbers of wearable health monitoring devices, smartphone apps, and web-based health to create new products and services that are truly tailored to the individual,” continued Patrick. “These can do everything from spelling out ways to improve your health by adopting appropriate behaviors to where to go on a holiday weekend when you or a loved one have run out of a life-critical medication.”

The DELPHI resource will allow apps designers to integrate real-time, population-scale health data from the personal, behavioral and social as well as environmental spheres in order to put the individual in the broadest possible context -- and to improve care such as diabetes management, which requires information from all three layers of data. Image: DELPHI Group

The DELPHI resource will allow apps designers to integrate real-time, population-scale health data from the personal, behavioral and social as well as environmental spheres in order to put the individual in the broadest possible context -- and to improve care such as diabetes management, which requires information from all three layers of data. Image: DELPHI Group

The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $2 million over four years to the UC San Diego team to prototype the development of a Data E-platform Leveraged for Patient Empowerment and Population Health Improvement” (DELPHI).

“The acronym is particularly meaningful,” noted Patrick, principal investigator on the DELPHI project and director of the Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems in the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2). “If we get it right, this new platform can become a modern-day oracle – giving a glimpse into the present and the future of users based on an understanding of all health data that are known to influence both present health and risks to health over time.”

The DELPHI platform builds on existing projects and capabilities developed on the UC San Diego campus by the School of Medicine, the UCSD division of Calit2, the Jacobs School of Engineering’s Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE), and SDSC, an Organized Research Unit of the university.

The project brings together a team of physicians (PI Kevin Patrick and co-PIs Theodore Chan, Lucila Ohno-Machado, and Jeannie Huang) and CSE faculty (co-PIs Bill Griswold, Yannis Papakonstantinou, and Sanjoy Dasgupta), who have collaborated on previous cyberinfrastructure projects, as well as SDSC Distinguished Scientist Chaitan Baru. These projects include the CitiSense and CYCORE projects, which focused, respectively, on the real-time capture of environmental data for personal health, and collecting data from individuals at home in the context of clinical treatments. (CitiSense was funded by the NSF, and CYCORE by the National Institutes of Health.)

Structure of the DELPHI e-platform at UC San Diego. Image: DELPHI Group

Structure of the DELPHI e-platform at UC San Diego. Image: DELPHI Group

“Now imagine if you could federate all of the data silos, or islands, and get insights from piecing together data that appear in individual silos,” said co-PI Griswold, who leads the CitiSense project. “If you can then put a machine-learning and ‘Big Data’ analytics layer on top of it, DELPHI would start to fulfill the promise of personalized population health.”

Community partners will play a central role in the project. In addition to Qualcomm Life and its 2Net Hub & Platform infrastructure, the partners include the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, San Diego Association of Governments, CONNECT, and San Diego Beacon Community. The latter is a partnership of health care providers, clinics, hospitals, emergency medical services and public health organizations that has invested in a health information exchange (HIE), an electronic network that allows San Diego health care providers to access patient health information from different electronic-record platforms and health care sites.

Another important part of DELPHI is how it supports convergence among key components of the new ecosystem of health and healthcare. Software developers have created thousands of health care apps for iPhone and Android devices, while others involved on the hardware side are creating a variety of new wearable and home-based technologies that provide 24/7 collection of data on a person’s vital signs, diet, activity, weight and other metrics of personal health.

“Despite the endless streams of personal data that these apps and technologies provide, they are still relatively modest in terms of their impact on health,” said co-PI Griswold. “One-of-a-kind wearable devices or apps like Nike+, Calorie King, or Zeo (for sleep) that utilize computer or Web-based platforms have basically zero ability to interchange data with electronic medical records, reducing their utility for individuals and their health care providers.”

The data from such apps also do not correlate to other personal medical data, including a patient’s genomic information, prescription drug use, or hospital records. Nor do they do anything at all with the capabilities that we now have to use cloud computing and real-time analytics to provide comparative data on other people based on age, education, geophysical location or other parameters. The vision of DELPHI is to set the stage such that data from these personal devices can intersect with data from two other layers (see graphic) of important information: electronic medical record data on genomic, biologic, and physiological data; and data on environmental factors important to health such as air pollutants or resources that promote higher levels of physical activity or stress reduction.

“Management of most health problems requires data from more than one of these layers for effective prevention or treatment,” noted Patrick. Diabetes management, for example, leverages information from all three layers because it involves a combination of careful tracking of insulin dosing blood glucose, promoting physical activity and diet behaviors through evidence-based approaches for behavioral improvement, and an understanding the home, neighborhood, social and community context of the patient.

“We too often just assume that if we address one of these issues we’ve solved the problem” says Patrick. “This is what is so often frustrating to patients as they see their doctors managing the numbers related to their illness, but ignoring the larger context of what actually influences their lives. The vision of DELPHI is that we can open up all of these data so that health services can be provided in a more holistic and complete way.”

Media Contacts:
Doug Ramsey, Calit2 Communications
858-822-5825, dramsey@ucsd.edu

Jan Zverina, SDSC Communications
858 534-5111 or jzverina@sdsc.edu

Related Links

DELPHI Project
National Science Foundation
Center for Wireless and Population Health Systems
Computer Science and Engineering Department
UC San Diego School of Medicine
San Diego Supercomputer Center
Calit2
CitiSense
CYCORE