Microsoft Research New England Turns 3: Jennifer Chayes Reveals Its First Product-and Collaborations With Bing, Facebook, and Twitter

7/7/11Follow @gthuang

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“What an economist does is they try to increase efficiency and social welfare,” Chayes says. “They believe those are the stable points of economic systems.” If you look at the U.S. healthcare system, for example, you will find tons of inefficiency. “The country is being bankrupted by healthcare from a demographic point of view—we’re an aging population, we have Medicare sitting there like a time bomb,” she says.

So a pair of postdocs in the lab, Mark Braverman (now at Princeton) and Mohsen Bayati (now at Stanford), applied some research on complexity theory and machine learning to healthcare data available through Amalga, Microsoft’s health software that’s used by hospitals to synchronize their 80-odd proprietary IT programs. One thing the researchers found was that they could predict which patients would return to the emergency room within 30 days after discharge—a common (and very costly) problem known as “bounceback” that usually means the patient got the wrong diagnosis or prescription.

The Microsoft team looked at all the words the doctors wrote down during the initial hospital visits. By mining the text for key words and phrases—and correlating them with bouncebacks—their software could identify likely bouncebacks and suggest tests to run (or other interventions) that would head off their returning. For example, Chayes says, “If the word ‘fluid’ appears, that’s a huge signal. That substantially increases the probability that someone is going to be readmitted.” (The presence of fluid might indicate an infection, say, which could be prone to misdiagnosis.) The resulting Microsoft product, called “Readmissions Manager,” just shipped as part of Amalga in the last month, she says.

Chayes’s own research in computational biology—such as algorithms for discovering gene regulatory networks, interpreting drug data, and predicting drug targets—could eventually make it into Amalga Life Sciences, a separate program focused on helping scientists make sense of reams of genomic data.

Meanwhile, other projects in the lab’s economics group involve teaming up with Microsoft’s Bing search engine and online services division to analyze things like how foreign currency fluctuations affect ad spending, how social media impacts search behavior and news consumption, how to identify top social influencers (“very important questions if a company like Facebook is going to have a reasonable business model,” Chayes says), and ways to optimize how media companies charge for content … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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