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UTHSC Student’s Data Application Influencing Health Care Outcomes During Pandemic


Leigh McCormack, an online PhD student in the College of Health Professions at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is using her technology startup to make a difference in health care outcomes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Leigh McCormack

McCormack, who is focusing her studies on health policy in the Health Informatics and Information Management program, is the CEO of Base Camp Health. Headquartered in Chattanooga, the company studies the social, behavioral, and motivational qualities of health care-seeking individuals to determine why they seek care, so that interventions can be put in place to help mitigate poor outcomes. Their assessment methods include advanced analytics, such as natural language processing and machine learning to uncover social barriers to health care found in location information, administrative claims, electronic health records, and clinical notes.

“I noticed a huge void in understanding the holistic individual as it pertained to health care utilization and outcomes,” McCormack said. “At Base Camp Health, we want to help health care organizations to get the most value out of their own data assets.”

McCormack analyzes all populations, with a particular focus on the underserved. “You truly have to look at everyone to assess who is vulnerable or underserved,” she said. “Those terms are relative depending on who you are speaking to.”

When the pandemic hit, health care organizations were forced to evaluate data differently due to ever-changing statistics. Base Camp Health’s solution was Ascend, a data application that evaluates COVID-19-specific patient information. The web-based app is a daily use tool that takes user inputs, population trends, and COVID prevalence data to estimate an individuals’ risk of exposing others. Employers and schools purchase a subscription that allows their respective organizations utilize the platform to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities. There are currently about 60 organizations that are active.

“We saw an opportunity to put our work around risk evaluation using disparate data sources into action,” McCormack said. “Our work in social determinants of health was critical in understanding the analytics needed to make this product meaningful to organizations.”

The organization has been collecting data for about three months, mainly from schools and employers, and plans to dive deeper into trends regarding COVID-19 exposure.

There are also plans to continue once the virus is controlled. “We are designing our roadmap to determine how to use what we’ve learned to create a more valuable tool post-COVID,” McCormack said. “Once I finish my studies, I plan to use the gained knowledge to keep innovating to solve problems for vulnerable populations.”