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Students Make Health Data Friendly 

The new visualizations created by the students will help consumers navigate health insurance data.

ALBANY, N.Y. (Nov. 20, 2017) – If your spouse has heart problems, wouldn’t you like to know which health insurance plan rates the best statewide in managing a cardiac condition?

Now you can have that information in a clear and understandable format, thanks to researchers and student scientists from UAlbany’s Center for Technology in Government (CTG), who developed software to produce easy-to-use “interactive data visualizations” for the New York State Department of Health (DOH).

The project was funded through DOH by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and was part of CTG’s Student Technology Innovations Lab Experience (STILE) program. The new visualizations provide information on the quality of various health insurance plans so that you, the consumer, can make informed decisions about which plan best suits you and your family’s needs.

The data on which the visualizations are based are made publicly available by DOH as part of Health Data NY, which is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s open data initiative. It provides user-friendly, one-stop access to data from state agencies, localities and the federal government.

Quality Performance Results for Health Plans in New York State are available on the NYS DOH website. Using this information, you can tell which plans managed a specific illness or condition “significantly better than average” as well as which performed below the state average. While this information was available to the public before, the results of the CTG UAlbany project mean it is now available in a clear, easy-to-digest format so that you can make the comparisons that are important in choosing health insurance.

The Innovations Lab Experience recruits exceptional students at UAlbany for experiential learning opportunities through CTG projects with state and local agencies. For this project with DOH, CTG recruited two graduate students from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences and one doctoral student in Public Administration & Policy from Rockefeller College.

Two of the students took regular, data-heavy charts and transformed them into interactive maps and graphs, while the third assessed their usefulness and analyzed efficiencies.

“This was a great opportunity to learn about current technologies and apply them on a project with a big impact,” said Meet Parikh, who graduated from UAlbany in 2016 with a master’s degree in Computer Science. “I am glad it is live (for the people of New York State). Apart from learning, I loved working at CTG. Thank you to CTG and UAlbany for helping me become a better developer.” Parikh is now a software engineer at Walmart Global eCommerce.

“As a researcher in training, I very much enjoyed working on a team made of people with different types of expertise,” said Sora Park, a doctoral student in Rockefeller College’s Department of Public Administration & Policy. “We were able to feed off one another’s ideas and accomplish more because our different skill sets complemented each other. I was so excited to see my ideas become actualized in our new data visualization tools, and that was one of the unique experiences that I enjoyed while working at CTG.”

“CTG’s STILE program has provided a tremendous opportunity for the Health Data NY program to expand its capability in presenting our own health data,” said the program’s director, Natalie Helbig. “We learned a great deal about what makes a good open dataset and ways in which to improve how we publish data.”

The open data framework developed by CTG is not limited to health data. “From our work with DOH we have developed and refined an approach that we can use with any government organization that’s interested in maximizing the value of its open data, regardless of the open data set,” said CTG Director Theresa Pardo.

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