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DSFederal team participates in HHS Opioid Code-A-Thon challenge

From left: Ashish Pagar, Nneka Hector, Maggie Chan, Erika Ostlie, Jianjun Wang

Seeking “data-driven solutions to combat the opioid epidemic,” HHS asked public health experts, developers, data scientists, and researchers to form teams and participate in a 24-hour coding challenge at HHS Headquarters. At the December 6-7 HHS Opioid Challenge Code-a-Thon, our team worked through the night to build what will become a secure, scalable, versatile, cloud-based solution focused on identifying trends and developing prevention models via predictive analytics.

The team arrived at HHS headquarters at 8 AM on Wednesday, December 6; and remained through 8 PM on Thursday. Dr. Jianjun Wang, DSFederal’s Director of Biomedical Informatics, praised his HHS hosts for taking good care of the coding teams, offering meals and snacks, room for sleeping bags, and even shower facilities. Midnight pizza “kept us going,” Dr. Wang said, along with plenty of coffee. In addition to Dr. Wang, our team included Nneka Hector, Director of Web Development; Senior Developers Ashish Pagar and Maggie Chan; and from Carnevale Associates, Erika Ostlie, who served as our SME and presenter. The team received additional pre-event support from DSFederal Lead Data Analyst Echo Wang and Business Analyst Haley Gintis; and ongoing guidance from VP for Management Solutions Dianne Welsh, who served as team strategist and adviser.

DSFederal's Code-a-Thon team takes a break. Clockwise from left: Maggie Chan, Erika Ostlie, Jianjun Wang, Nneka Hector, Ashish Pagar

The Code-a-Thon focused on three separate challenge tracks: Treatment, Prevention, and Usage. Working with HHS-provided datasets (including datasets that had never before been released), three- to five-member teams of coders and public health experts developed tools and applications for first responders, policy makers, and healthcare professionals. The three challenge tracks shared the objective of using data to create tools that will have “an immediate and practical impact on the opioid crisis.”

Using CBSA-level data, the DSFederal team created a flexible and cloud-based solution that is positioned to scale and grow. By exploring trends and pinpointing events, our solution will eventually offer a predictive model that will help professionals develop lasting and effective treatments for addiction.

Winners, one from each of the 25-team tracks, were announced immediately following the final presentations on December 7: Visionist, Inc. (winner of the Prevention challenge); Yale University’s Origami Innovations team (winner of the Treatment challenge); and the Opioid Prescriber Awareness Tool (OPAT) team (winner of the Usage challenge). Although DSFederal didn’t win, Dr. Wang still considers the event a great success, both for HHS and DSFederal. “It was a fun event, and now we are code-a-thon veterans--it was a very good learning experience and I’m absolutely glad we did it.”

With a preliminary solution in place, our team will continue to work on the application, which we hope will become a valuable weapon in the fight to end the opioid crisis. DSFederal is proud of our team and we congratulate the winners. As Dr. Wang describes it, the Challenge represents a “totally new direction,” for addressing widespread opioid addiction, and we look forward to helping to pioneer data- and IT-driven solutions to this public health crisis.


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