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The power of Data in Healthcare, an interview with Dr. Sophie Acker

Data is a big part of our daily lives; it is in everything we do, from groceries to shopping. It is also a part of our job as health care professionals. The data we get daily helps us to render better services to patients and help to impact communities more easily, more efficiently, and more effectively.

Dr. Sophie Acker is a data expert who was born and raised in Paris, and moved to Amsterdam 9 years ago. She was trained as a dentist, after what she took out time to go to business school, and then started working in the pharmaceutical industry, particularly in medical education. She worked in this field for over 10 years before moving permanently towards data.

Sophie sees her move to data as a continuum of her previous experience. Two specific experiences got her to look into that field.

The first was when she wanted to show the impacts of the clinical education programs her team was running, in order to get more resources to develop her department. She then realized data-based storytelling is the most powerful way to do so. This experience also made her realize not everyone is data literate, and that  there are common misconception, like getting the difference between correlation and causality. That is when she started developing interest in statistics, data visualization and data storytelling.

The second was when her team had built requirements for an educational recommendation tool that would recommend different assets to the different doctors depending on their experience and usage of the product. Here she discovered machine learning concepts she had no idea about, and that opened her world to data-science. Very quickly she realized that within healthcare everything machine learning-driven was becoming core to drive efficacy and efficiency, and that the medical professions will go through a major shift, where doctors can spend more energy focusing on the human relationships. She decided she wanted to be part of that shift.

Dr. Sophie Acker refers to herself as a Numerate Humanist, a term she got from the book Plato and the Nerds that talks about the partnership between humans and technology.

Analytics translators are very new roles in data science, so new in fact that you barely find open positions for them. It is more like a mindset of people who can work within the data science field, and are at the interface between business and data science. Most of them are data scientists by training, although some of them are not.

There are two types of analytics translators:

  • Type A (The Literate technologists): This is the data scientist that has deep knowledge about data science and can do the entire old algorithm himself and probably learned the business on the job. This makes up about 95% of the population of the people who work in data science.
  • Type B (Numerate Humanists): This is the new emerging wave of people who come from the business and have a deep love, interest, and understanding of data science, they may not be able to run the old algorithms but they have enough understanding of how the job is done and where mistakes can be made. They love to work with the interface and this is the part Sophie belongs to.

Sophie believes at this stage, analytics translation are a crucial need within health care, as it has the potential to help break silos within organizations and ensure better cross-functional thinking in the long term. She hopes that healthcare companies will invest in data literacy for business professional, as well as business literacy for data professional – and dreams that at some point the role of analytics translator will not be required anymore. She hopes she sees that shift before retiring, and that is-f it is the case she will be able to retire in peace.

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