The Northeastern University School of Law hosted a conference this month, Diseases of Despair: The Role of Policy and Law. Diseases of despair include alcohol and drug-related deaths and suicide. One thing we know that is not up for negotiation--the data indicates epidemic proportions.
I won't lie. This hasn't been an easy week. Although I no longer have comments activated on the blog--from time to time, individuals try to derail conversations on other channels of social media. Not one to shy away from a conversation built on science, evidence, or well-thought out questions I allowed an inimical thread to continue that was leading absolutely nowhere fast.
A recent blog post, Prior artistry of patents and patients discusses the role of prior art in how patents are filed and the potential impact on drug prices once the science and methodology is locked down for often up to 20 years (with reformulations and new indications for example). You can make your own decision on the good or bad of the practice but I believe we make better informed choices if we are aware of the influences and motivation behind how the healthcare industry functions. It is happening whether you look the other way or not.
Is it innovation if discovery no longer occurs in the labs of industry but are the result of pharmaceutical companies buying their way into disease states?
In a nutshell, after numerous posts from someone I did not know "mansplaining" about how patents work, the argument rested with one singular notion. Without patents we would no longer have innovation or be able to solve the literal ills of our society. I disagree because I believe the US healthcare system contains many points of entry to improve the high costs and low patient outcomes. These discussions are part of that--using data to drive curiosity and hopefully stimulating thoughtful questions and better answers.
As a data analyst I observe large patterns driving the bellwether of social structural problems in society. Diseases of despair reveal double digit increases in suicide, alcohol, and drug related mortality. These costs associated at the community level motivate large screening efforts in identifying root causes. As we look outside of the healthcare system we are able to identify the role of homelessness, incarceration, and addiction among many social correlates of health.
How do we access the silos of data across industry specific databases? A focus on data sourcing is critical and part of conversations among my peers and colleagues. How do we overcome these barriers? In the absence of access to data--are we defining the right metrics of success?
"WONDER online databases utilize a rich ad-hoc query system for the analysis of public health data." The data in the graph below are from their detailed mortality database pulled into Tableau. At a glance the ICD10 codes for drug poisonings X40, X44 show a sharp increase, the epidemic is impacting whites more than other races, the deaths appear concentrated in smaller populations, and it doesn't appear to be relenting any time soon.
Gapminder data also reminds us of our place in the world when we compare life expectancy and income levels based on GDP per capita. I am lucky to have seen Hans Rosling present his dynamic data live at Tableau Conferences. Please visit the website especially if you are beginning to work with data visualization. There are a wide variety of interactives and new tools for you to explore.
All we can do is to keep learning. Seemingly black and white scenarios still contain a lot of grey...