During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, a Texas-based organization helped distribute vaccinations equitably around the U.S.-Mexico border. It did that with the help of an Albuquerque-based company — earning both recent national recognition.
RS21 is a data analytics, artificial intelligence and machine learning company based in Albuquerque. On Nov. 16 it joined the Austin, Texas-based Wellness Equity Alliance for a presentation at the White House. The presentation — part of the White House Summit on COVID-19 Equity and What Works Showcase — showed how the two organizations partnered to promote equitable vaccine distribution along the U.S.-Mexico border.
During the presentation, Angelica Maestas spoke on behalf of RS21. She’s the division president of RS21’s Health Lab, which uses analytics to improve healthcare outcomes. Formed after the acquisition of Versatile Med Analytics in February 2021, the lab represents about 40% of RS21’s overall work, said CEO Charles Rath.
Albuquerque Business First caught up with Rath following RS21’s White House presentation to discuss what the national platform means for the company and where its health equity work could go in the future.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Business First: How is the Health Lab taking an innovative approach to health care data and analytics?
Charles Rath: There’s just a massive need for better data and evidence-based decision-making in all health care domains, from payers to providers to research facilities. Health care is kind of known for having outdated systems and it’s ripe for disruption with better data, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Some of the cool projects [the Health Lab] is doing is health equity work with the Wellness Equity Alliance that was promoted at the White House. It’s also building the massive informatics platform for the University of New Mexico’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, and it’s historically done very innovative projects with organizations like Humana, which is a Fortune 100 company, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. It has a lot of really cool work in the pipeline for 2023.
What does having a platform at the White House mean for RS21? It’s giving a small company that was founded in Albuquerque a voice on arguably the biggest stage in the world. And so it gave Angelica (Maestas) an opportunity to share some of the innovations that we’re doing with data and artificial intelligence for a very good cause, which is improving access to health care and equity within public health — which is a big problem just given the gaps that we have from a socioeconomic perspective in this country.
How did RS21 work with the Wellness Equity Alliance? Some of the issues are how do you make the best available use of limited resources? You want to make sure that you’re getting the biggest bang for your buck. And then, if you have limited resources, you want to make sure that you’re deploying those resources in the way that they’re going to be most effective.
One way that we helped the Wellness Equity Alliance was to help them understand where to locate mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics in and around the Texas and Mexico border. We identified where people that are most vulnerable live, meaning those people that have a lot of underlying health conditions. We used a very novel artificial intelligence method to estimate how those people move in a city and in a community and where they frequent. Then we guided [the Wellness Equity Alliance] to locate the vaccination clinics in those areas, which drastically increases their use and efficacy. It was a really cool breakthrough in health care data analytics.
You’re talking about this innovative data approach to using resources in the best way possible. Does your platform at the White House change any of RS21’s future plans in this area? We were approached by the Executive Office of the President to help them think through their social determinants of health strategy at the national level. That’s essentially those things that are actually driving health care outcomes in the country outside the walls of the hospital. The future of health care is trying to change behavior to ensure that chronic health conditions never get created in the first place.
We’re very eager to talk about the data we have both in New Mexico and across the country. That’s part of the reason why we were able to respond so quickly to COVID-19, through our Urban Health Vulnerability Index, which got a fair amount of media attention in 2020 and 2021. It’s why we’re able to do things like this for the Wellness Equity Alliance and really be an authority on that topic at the White House level.
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‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort