Gillings team wins student data analysis competition to tackle North Carolina health challenges
May 6, 2020
An interdisciplinary team of doctoral and graduate students from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health – including Mekhala Dissanayake, Erica Zeno, Kathryn Carpenter and Emily Newman – recently won first place in the North Carolina Well-Being Data Analysis Competition.
The competition, hosted by Sharecare and the UNC Center for the Business of Health (CBOH) in partnership with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, was designed to drive local insights around well-being in North Carolina. In addition to uncovering data-driven insights and solutions to promote healthier communities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, participants also competed on behalf of local nonprofits leading pandemic relief efforts.
The virtual competition engaged UNC-Chapel Hill students in solving challenges impacting the health and well-being of North Carolinians, especially as communities across the state combat the impacts of COVID-19. One hundred sixteen students across 29 academic disciplines participated in the 48-hour “hackathon”-style competition, using proprietary data sets from Sharecare’s Community Well-Being Index, including data across both well-being and social determinants of health in N.C., as well as secondary data sources identified by the students.
Based on their analyses, students proposed actionable solutions addressing various determinants – including food security, access to healthcare, access to education, economic stability and more – that can be implemented in communities across the state to improve their resiliency and overall health outcomes. As a next step, Sharecare will partner with UNC CBOH and the winning teams to explore opportunities with peer-reviewed publications and ways to leverage the solutions in future well-being initiatives across N.C.
The winning team featured doctoral students from the Department of Epidemiology (Dissanayake and Zeno) and Master of Public Health Students from the Department of Health Behavior (Carpenter and Newman). Their analysis identified important economic, healthcare access and well-being factors associated with rural and racial compositions of counties. They found that while rural areas have lower economic stability, some rural areas still had high overall well-being. Counties with significant racial disparities were correlated with decreased access to healthcare, decreased economic stability and poorer health outcomes.
“We were excited to bring a public health perspective to this competition,” said Dissanayake. “Using our knowledge of health disparities in North Carolina, and with COVID-19 weighing heavily on our minds, we chose to focus on insights around rurality and race. We hope that our findings can be further explored to recognize that changes in economic and healthcare infrastructure will be needed to support North Carolinians’ health both during this crisis and after.”
The second-place team included Valentina Marginean and Duncan McBride. The third-place team included Brainard Burrus, Greeshma Somashekar, Jesse Martin and Sarah Glier.
The first-place team donated their prize winnings to Legal Aid of North Carolina, and the second and third place teams donated their winnings to Farmer Foodshare.
“On behalf of the Sharecare team, congratulations to all of our winners and participants,” said Jeff Arnold, founder and CEO of Sharecare. “As we adjust to a new normal in a changing healthcare landscape, improving the well-being and resiliency of our communities is more critical than ever. With the insights and solutions presented in this competition, the students demonstrated the power of multidisciplinary perspectives and various dimensions of data in addressing the most challenging issues impacting health and outcomes in our community populations.”
As part of its ongoing measurement through the Community Well-Being Index, Sharecare analyzes both physical and non-physical factors of health across purpose, social, financial, community and physical domains. These insights are leveraged to inform health and well-being strategies for healthcare institutions, government agencies and various other enterprise populations and communities across the U.S. By partnering with academic institutions like UNC-Chapel Hill, Sharecare takes a collaborative approach to accelerating data-driven well-being solutions and supporting their implementation in real-world settings.
The UNC CBOH partners with industry leaders like Sharecare to produce relevant and timely academic scholarship, addressing key challenges across the healthcare value chain. An equally important mandate of UNC CBOH is to offer experiential, interdisciplinary engagement opportunities for students—such as the North Carolina Well-Being Data Analysis Competition—that better prepare graduates to lead successful careers in dynamic healthcare environments. Most importantly, UNC CBOH aims to positively affect the lives of North Carolinians through world-class research, teaching and convening opportunities that engage a diverse set of stakeholders across the healthcare ecosystem.
“Congratulations to all of our winners and participants. The submissions to the North Carolina Well-Being Data Analysis Competition showed incredible sophistication and thoughtful analyses around social determinants of health and the well-being of North Carolinians. While we only recognized three winning teams, each team represents the best of UNC,” said Brad Staats, faculty director for the UNC CBOH and a professor at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School.
Thanks to the high turnout and tremendous insights generated in the student competition, UNC CBOH, Sharecare and Blue Cross NC recently held the North Carolina Well-Being Faculty & Staff Data Analysis Competition. This competition showcased the talent and expertise that exists among faculty and staff researchers across UNC-Chapel Hill, and their abilities to contribute insights-driven solutions for a healthier North Carolina. The weeklong competition concluded on May 1.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health Communications Team at firstname.lastname@example.org.