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Battelle Health & Analytics Newsletter

Welcome to the Battelle Environment Matters e-newsletter, a publication from Battelle. We are providing this as a service to our environmental clients to keep you informed of the latest news from our researchers and the industry. 

Battelle provides objective, scientifically sound solutions for commercial and government clients that balance environmental, human health and economic concerns. Battelle Environment Matters will keep you up-to-date on cutting-edge environmental research and innovations for environmental remediation, restoration, assessment, monitoring and characterization.

Featured Expert

Scott Novak, Ph.D.

Scott Novak, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist

Battelle is pleased to welcome Dr. Scott Novak as a Senior Research Scientist and Research Director for Substance Abuse. An internationally recognized expert on opioid and marijuana abuse, Scott will be focused on expanding Battelle’s research capabilities in these critical areas of public health. 

Scott joins Battelle as part of the Public Health Improvement & Response (PHI&R) team. His initial focus will be on establishing a research program for opioid use and addiction. This work complements Battelle’s long-standing work in tobacco control and, more recently, marijuana research.  He will also help to expand Battelle’s research capabilities for marijuana. His initial projects include a study to examine prescription opioid abuse in rural Appalachia for the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project to increase the availability of naloxone, a medication that reverses the effects of opioid overdose. Over the next several months, he will continue to build out the substance abuse team and define research priorities. 

Abuse of and addiction to opioids—including prescription painkillers and illegal drugs such as heroin—is a serious and growing problem, affecting more than 2.1 million people in the U.S. The opioid epidemic has hit some regions especially hard, constituting a public health crisis in many areas such as rural Appalachia. Research is critically needed to better understand the risk factors and mechanisms for addiction and identify effective treatment options. At the same time, acceptance and availability of marijuana is on the rise as more states legalize it for medical or recreational use. Policy makers need clear research to help them understand the public health implications of different approaches to legalization and regulation of marijuana products as well as how use and addiction patterns are changing. 

Scott brings extensive experience in substance abuse research that will be invaluable as Battelle expands research efforts in these areas. His experience spans basic research as well as positions working for government agencies and in the pharmaceutical industry. His key areas of expertise include statistical methodology, psychiatric and substance use disorder research, epidemiological study design, medical and retail cannabis legalization, and opioid use and abuse. Scott applies advanced statistical and methodological approaches to the analysis of epidemiological and clinical data for the classification, measurement and diagnosis of disease. His methodological interests also involve the application of new social media technologies for data collection and analysis. 

Prior to joining Battelle, Scott worked for RTI, where he directed the program of research on prescription drug abuse within RTI's Behavioral Health Epidemiology Program. He was also active in studies investigating the epidemiology of new synthetic/designer drugs of abuse in the United States and internationally as well as the use and abuse of marijuana and opioids. He has served as Principal Investigator on numerous National Institutes of Health (NIH) grants and commercial projects. 

Other notable projects include a SAMHSA project tracking performance measures for 600 substance abuse treatment facilities across the U.S., a federal initiative to create community-level estimates for illicit drug abuse, and a surveillance system to monitor prescription drug abuse in eight European Union countries.  

Scott holds a Ph.D. in Quantitative Sociology from the University of Kentucky at Lexington; an M.A. in Medical Sociology from the University of Kentucky at Lexington; an M.S. in Statistics (Honors) from Harvard University; a B.S. in Statistics from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and a B.A. in Sociology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.  He has authored more than 100 papers and presentations and continues to publish extensively. 

Erica Peters, Ph.D.

Erica Peters, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist

How are use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco and marijuana intertwined? Dr. Erica Peters, a Principal Research Scientist on the Battelle Health and Analytics team, is leading several new studies to find out. 

The first study, for the National Institutes of Health (NIH), examines the interaction between nicotine and alcohol use. It seeks to answer complicated questions about how smoking impacts alcohol consumption in people with alcohol use disorders. In particular, the study will examine whether reducing nicotine consumption causes people to drink more to compensate, substituting one substance for another. The answers will help the agency predict the potential impact of proposed regulation to lower the allowable amount of nicotine in cigarettes on rates of alcohol abuse in vulnerable populations. 

Erica will also lead two planned internal studies that look how marijuana and tobacco use influence each other. The first study asks whether consumption of marijuana increases cravings for and use of tobacco cigarettes. The second studies consumption patterns for marijuana blunts, in which flavored cigarette wrappers are emptied of tobacco and refilled with marijuana, in order to determine whether the flavored wrappers influence marijuana smoking behaviors. Erica is also a co-investigator on a second NIH study to determine whether e-cigarette users experience withdrawal symptoms when they stop using the devices similar to the symptoms experienced by people quitting cigarette smoking. 

These studies build on 15 years of research and clinical work in substance use and addiction. Erica has devoted her research career to understanding addiction and substance use behaviors in adults. She is especially interested in looking at the complex interactions that occur when multiple substances are used concurrently. “Historically, the research community has looked at questions around use and abuse one substance at a time, but that’s not how it happens in the real world,” she explains. “We need to understand how multiple addictions go hand-in-hand. This has real relevance for treatment decisions. When you have someone who exhibits problematic use behaviors with multiple substances, should you tell them to quit all of them at once, or go one at a time? We don’t really know.”

Erica’s research interests and priorities have been strongly influenced by her clinical experience. Prior to joining Battelle in 2014, Erica was Assistant Research Scientist at Friends Research Institute and worked as a clinical psychologist at Epoch Counseling Center, where she provided group and individual therapy for adults with substance use disorders. Her prior experience also includes several years of postdoctoral research and clinical experience at Yale University School of Medicine and at the University of Vermont, where she earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. 

At the University of Vermont, her dissertation and post-doctoral research focused on drug substitution patterns, in particular, the use of alcohol during abstinence from marijuana use. She continued to study substitution of addictive substances at Yale. Her clinical experience at Yale focused on cognitive-behavioral techniques for smoking cessation treatment as well as treatment of alcohol use disorders and cocaine use. 

Erica has authored or co-authored dozens of papers on tobacco, alcohol and marijuana use, abuse, addiction and cessation and presented at numerous conferences and symposiums. She also brings several years of teaching experience at the University of Vermont and Scottsdale Community College. 

Her experience has put Erica in demand as a reviewer and advisor for tobacco cessation and substance abuse programs. From 2006-2008, she served on the Vermont Tobacco Evaluation and Review Board, where she evaluated the state’s telephone Quit Line and online Quit Net services, school-based and community programs, and enforcement of laws intended to prevent sales of tobacco to minors. From 2012-2015, she was a member of the Advisory Board for the Society for Research of Nicotine and Tobacco (SRNT) Trainee Network. Erica is currently a member of SRNT and the College on Problems of Drug Dependence. 

Moving forward, Erica plans to turn more of her attention to marijuana use. She was recently tasked with building a new research group at Battelle focused on marijuana research. The program will build on Battelle’s history of tobacco and nicotine research. “Marijuana use is an important topic to understand right now, as more states move towards legalization for medical or recreational use,” Erica says. “It will be critical to understand how marijuana use behaviors are changing and how use of marijuana impacts use patterns of other substances.” 

Michael Schwemmer, Ph.D.

Michael Schwemmer, Ph.D., Research Scientist

Dr. Michael Schwemmer is making medical devices and healthcare systems a whole lot smarter. A Research Scientist and Statistician on the Battelle Health Analytics team, he applies advanced machine learning methods to solve complex problems in neurotechnology, quality measure development, and other aspects of healthcare.

Mike is an applied mathematician with six years of experience in applying computational and mathematical techniques to problems in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, and physics. He is an expert in modeling complex systems and has published scientific papers in mathematics, physics, neuroscience, engineering, psychology, and neuroscience journals. At Battelle, his current work is focused on utilizing deep learning neural network tools. He explains, “Deep learning neural networks mimic the structure of the brain. The idea is that a large network of very simple components can solve complex problems if you wire enough of them together.” Neural network tools can be applied to solve advanced pattern recognition problems that standard algorithms do not handle well, such as image recognition, speech recognition, classification problems, and other applications that involve extracting meaningful information out of massive data sets.

Since joining Battelle in January of 2016, Mike has worked on a number of projects applying statistical and data analytical methods for both private and government clients. Much of his work has been focused on improving the algorithms for Battelle NeuroLife™, a neural bypass technology that has allowed a paralyzed man to regain conscious, dexterous control of his wrist, hand, and fingers. The technology works by interpreting brain signals collected from a chip implanted in the man’s motor cortex and translating those signals into electrical outputs that stimulate the muscles in his hand using a specially designed sleeve. In this way, the technology bypasses his damaged spinal cord. Advanced algorithms are used to pick out the signal indicating the patient’s intent (e.g., ‘raise the index finger’) from massive amounts of other data generated by the brain. Currently, these algorithms have to be recalibrated daily, because the shape of the signal shifts slightly depending on the patient’s emotions, level of alertness, or other brain states. Mike is working to develop new algorithms based on deep learning neural networks that will provide more stable, long-term performance and eliminate the need for daily calibration. He will share the latest development on NeuroLife at the HIMSS conference on February 22.

Mike is also applying his expertise to refine Sematrix™, a cognitive analytical system that uses natural language processing to extract and represent the knowledge contained in scientific, technical, or general text. A project for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) uses Sematrix to extract knowledge from the National Library of Medicine (Pub Med) as well as policy documents, study results, and summary information available through other libraries in order to inform the development of new quality measures. This work will vastly reduce the amount of time that it takes to find relevant study results needed to develop new, evidence-based measures. Mike’s work will help to improve the natural language processing engine to ensure that results for complex queries are relevant and accurate.

Moving forward, Mike hopes to continue to advance NeuroLife and other assistive technologies and medical devices. “My brother has Cerebral Palsy, and I grew up around many people struggling with disabilities,” he says. “Working on projects that help this community is very personal for me.” He will also be working on other projects related to patient adherence for diabetics and patients using inhalers. He sees tremendous potential to apply deep learning technologies to other types of problems in healthcare, including prediction of disease onset and progression. “We’re only starting to see the possibilities of this,” he says. “Deep learning can be applied to any problem where we have access to large amounts of data. There really seems to be no ceiling to what is possible with these types of algorithms.”

Prior to joining Battelle, Mike was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow and instructor at Princeton University. He also completed postdoctoral work at the Mathematical Biosciences Institute at The Ohio State University, where his work focused on understanding the computational properties of neural circuits in the brain that are known to be involved in decision-making and working memory processes. He has substantial experience presenting his work at scientific conferences as well as teaching mathematical and computational methods. He holds a B.A. in Mathematics from Queens College, CUNY and a Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of California-Davis.

Barry Dickman

Barry Dickman, Program Manager, Battelle Health & Consumer Solutions Team

Barry Dickman has spent his career helping government agencies find efficiencies though healthcare information technology. Now, he is continuing that work as a Program Manager on the Battelle Health and Consumer Solutions Team.

Barry joined Battelle in June 2016. He is a subject matter expert in the application of Health IT & Analytics solutions in the federal government marketplace and works with Battelle’s many federal clients, including Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), Veterans Administration (VA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Defense Health Agency (DHA), Department of Defense (DoD), Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) and Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE).

Much of Barry’s career has been devoted to health information technology, standards and interoperability, program and project management support, quality assurance/improvement, HIPAA compliance, enterprise architecture and software development and requirements management. One of his first projects at Battelle is analyzing the public benefit attributable to interoperable health information exchange. He also has plans to develop a concept and strategy for the use of a 3-D visual tool to help improve veterans’ experience with internal services, resources and infrastructure by allowing veterans and their eligible dependents to efficiently obtain comprehensive information from the easy-to-use, visual platform.

Barry continues to serve on the Board of Directors for the Healthcare Information Management and Systems Society of the National Capital Area (HIMSS-NCA) Chapter as the Immediate Past-President. HIMSS is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to improving healthcare through IT solutions. HIMSS-NCA is the only federally-focused chapter nationwide. He has also represented the industry as an active member of eHealth Initiative—Interoperability Work Group, and previously with the Open Source Electronic Health Record Alliance (OSEHRA). Barry co-chaired the OSEHRA Interoperability Work Group (IWG) and has been a sought-after consultant on the challenges and barriers to successful interoperability. “Interoperability in healthcare IT systems is very important to ensure that medical records can be securely transferred between providers,” he explains. “Making sure that standards are implemented uniformly across all Electronic Health Record providers and hospital systems is essential to maintaining open, scalable systems and ensuring consistent quality of patient care.”

He also serves on the Planning Committee for the Interoperability Technical Symposium (IOP 2017) and Planning Committee for the American Immunization Registry Association (AIRA) 2017 National Meeting.

Barry’s work at Battelle keeps him in close contact with the federal agencies and senior executive staff though client engagements, industry events, panels and conferences. He sees opportunity in emerging trends in analytics to help agencies reduce costs, streamline services and take advantage of economies in scale. “My role is really to bring stakeholders from across industry together to ensure that best practices and lessons learned are implemented,” he says. “As a research and development nonprofit charitable trust, I believe we have a fiduciary responsibility to help our agency partners work to identify areas of opportunity to improve the efficacy and efficiency of their programs.” Part of this work will involve identifying and implementing innovative technology, new platforms and applications for cutting-edge analytics programs used in other industries and across Battelle, such as WayFinder and Sematrix.

Prior to joining Battelle, Barry was a Senior Consultant for Inc., a small information technology consulting firm focused on federal civilian, defense and commercial sector clients. While there, he was responsible for tactical implementation and quality assurance for programs delivered to the DoD, DHA, VA and other federal agencies. Earlier in his career, Barry served as the Director of Health Solutions for Data Networks Corporation, as a Senior Advisor and Healthcare Consultant for the MITRE Corporation, and as a Project Manager for CTG, Inc.

 Barry’s volunteer community interests include the role of Immediate Past-President, Board of Directors for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Washington Field Office (WFO) Citizens Academy Alumni Association (CAAA). The CAAA is a community based 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, distinct and separate from the FBI, dedicated to working with the FBI to enhance the quality of life in the Washington DC metropolitan area. The goal of the organization is to foster relationships and understanding between the FBI WFO and the community to improve the FBI’s ability to solve and detect crimes. The CAAA funds several important programs in support of the WFO Community Outreach Program including the Junior Special Agent, Adopt-a-School and Mentoring programs in the DC metro area public schools.

He has authored numerous articles, blogs and newsletters. Barry holds a B.A. in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland and a Master of Health Services Administration from George Washington University. He is a credentialed and trained member of the Office of the Civilian Volunteer Medical Reserve Corps (OCVMRC), Federal Deployment Operations. He currently serves as an active member and Incident Coordinator with the Fairfax Medical Reserve Corp (MRC). 

Jeffrey Geppert

Jeffrey Geppert, Senior Research Leader

Jeffrey Geppert believes in the power of analytics to make a difference in the world. “Patient safety is still a huge problem in this country,” he explains, “but if we can measure it—if we put hard numbers on adverse events—we can start to get a handle on it and ultimately change it.” 

As a Senior Research Leader on the Battelle Health and Consumer Solutions team, Jeffrey is working to make that goal a reality. He heads up Battelle’s work on hospital and physician quality measures for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). In this role, he leads the team responsible for maintaining the CMS measure inventory and the blueprint that defines the processes and decision criteria that are used to develop new quality measures. In addition, Jeffrey and his team use analytical engines to scan hundreds of thousands of updates and articles posted in the biomedical literature each month. Using a tool such as Battelle Sematrix™, they are able to analyze very large data sets to find meaningful information that could potentially impact CMS measure development.

The CMS quality measures are a critical driver in reducing medical mistakes and adverse events in hospitals. A CMS study reported that 13.5% of Medicare and Medicaid patients experienced an adverse event during a hospital stay in 2010, and another 13.5% experienced events causing temporary harm. The study concluded that 44% of these events were clearly or likely preventable. In addition to the harm caused to patients, these events are expensive, costing CMS an estimated $4.4 billion annually. The CMS measures that Jeffrey and his team are helping to develop and maintain are used to provide an objective measure of hospital quality, assist CMS in making reimbursement and value-based purchasing decisions, and inform data-driven quality improvement initiatives for individual hospitals and hospital systems. There is growing evidence that these efforts are working; the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has reported a significant reduction in adverse events since the measures were implemented, as measured by CMS claims data. 

Jeffrey has devoted a large part of his career to developing tools that can help hospitals quantify, understand and reduce adverse events. He recently served as Project Director of the Support for Quality Indicators (SQI) project, which develops software that health professionals can apply to their own hospital discharge data. Jeffrey’s team provides technical support to users, annual updates to indicator specifications, data security services and software and documentation maintenance. Jeffrey has also been instrumental in the development of the Battelle WayFinder™ QI Dashboard, a cloud-based quality improvement analytics tool that helps hospitals monitor performance, analyze trends and identify areas for improvement.

In prior roles at Battelle, Jeffrey was responsible for empirical testing and software development on a project that resulted in the development of the QI (Quality Indicator) modules for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). He has served as a technical consultant for implementation of the AHRQ measures for several states and agencies, including the Departments of Health for Utah and four other Western states, the Texas Hospital Association and the Texas Healthcare Information Council. Ten years ago, Jeffrey developed a method for calculating a composite score for hospital quality that is still in wide use today. “My work on hospital quality measures is the single thing that I have done that has the biggest impact on the world,” he says. “Hundreds of thousands of people still die each year due to preventable medical errors. Medical errors and adverse events are also huge cost drivers for the industry. I want to continue to work on projects that can make a difference for individual people and for the system as a whole."

Jeffrey brings 24 years of analytics experience to his role, including 22 years focused on health services. Prior to joining Battelle in 2004, he worked as a senior research analyst with the Health Care Economics Program at the National Bureau of Economic Research and the Center for Primary Care and Outcomes Research and Center for Health Policy at Stanford University. Jeffrey holds a J.D. from Harvard Law School, a Masters of Education from Harvard University, and a B.A. in Economics and Mathematics from Lawrence University.

Greg Daphnis

Greg Daphnis, Project Manager, Health and Analytics

Greg Daphnis is keeping the work of quality measure development moving. A Project Manager on the Battelle Health and Analytics team, he makes sure Battelle’s quality measure projects stay on schedule and on budget.

Greg joined Battelle in March 2016 and brings more than 13 years of experience in project management for healthcare analytics. He currently supports two projects for Battelle Health and Analytics:

  • The Measure Management System (MMS), a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) project that provides a standardized system and blueprint for healthcare measure developers. Battelle maintains the MMS and provides technical support to third party measure developers.
  • The Electronic Clinical Quality Measure (ECQM), also a CMS-funded project. As part of this project, Battelle is mainly responsible for continuing to develop and evolve the framework for the online Resource Center, which will be a public-facing, single source of information, as well as an interactive tool, for the Electronic Clinical Quality Improvement (eCQI) Ecosystem of standards and tools.

Greg provides project management services for both projects, keeping deliverables on track and providing timely updates to Battelle staff and CMS. 

Prior to joining Battelle, he worked for Econometrica, Inc., where he served as the Project Manager for the Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) program. PACE is a CMS-funded program that helps the elderly meet their health care needs in the community instead of going to a nursing home or other care facility. In this role, Greg managed the development of healthcare quality measures following the MMS blueprint. His prior experience on the “client side” of the MMS project has given him a deeper understanding of the needs of measure developers. “I’m very familiar with the MMS blueprints, because I had to follow it and know it from top to bottom as a measure developer,” he explains. “I know what kind of support and guidance measure developers need. 

During his three years at Econometrica, Greg also served as the Task Lead for two other CMS projects: Bundled Payments for Care Improvement (BPCI) and the National Content Developer (NCD) program, which supported the Partnership for Patients (PfP) goal of reducing preventable harm in hospitals by 40 percent and reducing avoidable readmissions by 20 percent. Before his time at Econometrica, Greg worked for 10 years at America’s Health Insurance Plans (AHIP), where he served as the Program Manager on the Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) project.

Greg holds a Master of Public Health (MPH) in Epidemiology from Tulane University and a B.S. in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the University of Florida.