Carnegie Mellon University

health care

August 01, 2019

MBA Student Project Applies Data Science in Health Care

Students in the MBA Business Analytics track worked with Net Health to demonstrate how the company can use its wound care management data. 

Data analytics continues to power business decisions across a wide spectrum of industries and functions. For MBA students interested in pursuing roles reliant on data analysis, the Tepper School of Business offers a Business Analytics track in its MBA curriculum.

“There are many courses in the MBA curriculum that give analytics experience, but the Business Analytics track gets students thinking holistically about how to structure data and extract useful knowledge from that data to fulfill business objectives,” said Willem-Jan van Hoeve, Carnegie Bosch Associate Professor of Operations Research and faculty coordinator of the track. 

“Students want to be in this track because they’re interested in experiencing what is like to be at the forefront of using analytics to solve business problems,” Alan Montgomery, Professor of Marketing, said. Montgomery served as faculty adviser for a capstone project with electronic health care record company Net Health, which students participated in to complete the track requirements.

Net Health provides specialized software solutions (clinical documentation, outcomes management, consulting, and practice management tools) to medical providers in post-acute and outpatient settings across the continuum of care. The company, founded in 2002 is headquartered in Pittsburgh, which helped the students to engage with company leadership throughout the project.

Wound Care Management

David Crosby, an MBA candidate and Business Development Executive at Net Health who worked on the capstone project, believes that data science and artificial intelligence are transformative forces for business in the 21st century. “I wanted to explore the business use cases of such techniques and come away with some technical expertise,” he said

Crosby recommended that Net Health partner with the Tepper School for this project. “With over a year left in the program and a keen eye toward brokering relationships,” he said, “I laid the groundwork to connect my employer with Tepper.”

Among its products, Net Health offers electronic health records software to wound care clinics, which treat chronic wounds that originate from infections or conditions like diabetes or blood disorders. This project tasked the MBA students with making recommendations for how it can harness those records to provide additional services to its clients, such as assessing the success rates of wound care centers or building predictive models that improve the efficacy of treatment. 

Christopher Hayes, a Dietrich College graduate who is Chief Technology Officer at Net Health, was pleased for the opportunity to engage with his alma mater. The company has collected a great deal of data on wound care, and hoped to demonstrate how that data could be used to better predict and manage wound healing. “The timing of it was right in line with our business needs,” Hayes said.

Data-Based Decision-Making

This problem is the kind of challenge that the Business Analytics track capstone is intended to tackle. “One of the fun and challenging elements in these business analytics capstone projects is that it’s a new problem,” Montgomery said. “A unique element of our MBA students is that they have business acumen to bring to the problem, so they are thinking not just about how to solve the analytics problem, but also the broader business problem.”

Rather than working with a neat data set built for easy analysis, as students would encounter in an introductory course, they are faced with real data on a highly complex problem. The students are challenged to assess the quality of the data, determine the best methods for analysis, prove that their methods work, and come up with a business model that provides value to the client.

“Their technical abilities and their ability to assimilate knowledge was awesome,” Hayes said. “We have a big and unruly data set, and they took to it extremely quickly and devoted a lot of time to understanding it. They certainly brought skills that we don’t have at Net Health.”

Successful Partnership

“The opportunity to gain an understanding of an unfamiliar topic that has a huge effect on millions of people’s lives felt truly meaningful,” MBA candidate Trey Thompson said. “It was a fun challenge to build the requisite level of background knowledge while still maintaining primary focus on the broader task of developing a predictive model and thinking through the business implications of how it could be used.”

Unlike his classmates, Crosby had firsthand experience, and he appreciated the opportunity to strengthen his skills. “It seemed that every elective I took had some direct use at Net Health,” he said. “Understanding Net Health’s rich reservoir of data, I knew that what I was learning each mini-semester could be leveraged by Net Health." 

For Hayes, the project represented a major success. “They delivered exactly what we were hoping for,” he said. “They put together a viable model that is going to help convince our executive team to take to the board for investment.” The company is doing a deep dive market analysis and investing in a commercialization plan for predictive modeling capabilities.

“The most rewarding part of the project was providing Net Health with a deliverable that they were incredibly satisfied with,” MBA student Benjamin Narotsky said. “This project helped me to develop the skill of finding solutions with an ambiguous and vaguely defined problem.”

Thompson added, “Our group needed to define a project vision, marshal resources to get us there, build the requisite skills, and constantly revisit our goals as we gained a better understanding of what was feasible given our constraints. The ability to work through those and ultimately create a quality output was a skill that each one of us will be able to use in our future career.”