What's Your StORy?

Eric Stephens, CAP

Eric Stephens

September 2017 What's Your StORy?
Manager, Population Health Analytics, Vanderbilt University Medical Center

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What has been your best INFORMS experience thus far?
I have had several wonderful experiences in my relatively short time as an INFORMS member, but perhaps the best thus far has been the opportunity to work as part of the core team to help develop the Analytics Body of Knowledge (ABOK). I was invited by the certification manager at INFORMS to become a member of this group, and found the experience to be incredibly stimulating and extremely rewarding-especially the two-day working session we had at the beginning of the project. Other great experiences include moderating a panel at the 2015 Healthcare conference in Nashville, working with Zahir Balaporia and many others as part of the Engagement with Organizations committee, and of course playing bass with Zahir, Glenn Wegryn, and other wonderful musicians (collectively referred to as "The Algorythmics") during a reception at the 2016 Annual Meeting!


How do you define "analytics"?
I define analytics simply as "the analysis of data to help drive informed decision making." In my world, analytics is useless unless it drives positive change, so first and foremost it must direct or inform some kind of decision; if it doesn't, then it's just information without a purpose. To me, it doesn't matter how simple or sophisticated the analytics approach is-as long as it's the proper approach and the results help support organizational objectives, then that's all that counts.


Why did you become a CAP and how has it helped your career?
I first learned about the CAP program about a year or so after it began, and it just so happened that at the time I discovered it, I was looking for additional credentials that I thought might help my career, so the timing was perfect. I definitely feel that it played a role in my ability to land my job at Vanderbilt, but perhaps the most interesting consequence of obtaining the certification is the number of conversations that have resulted. Upon finding out that I'm a CAP, many people are very interested to learn more about it, which has given me the opportunity to be somewhat of an ambassador for the program (which I'm always happy to be!).


What are current issues/trends/challenges in health analytics?
For healthcare providers, perhaps the most significant issue today is the shift away from a "fee-for-service" model (in which a patient gets billed for every individual visit, exam, supply, etc.) in favor of a more value-based approach that focuses on the comprehensive delivery of care, with a particular emphasis on reducing cost while improving quality. To help drive this shift, providers (typically physicians, hospitals, and clinics) are beginning to participate in shared-savings/shared-risk programs in which they are financially rewarded for making positive changes, and potentially financially penalized if they do not. As one might imagine, analytics is playing a significant role in this shift, as it is being used to help inform providers of cost-savings and quality improvement opportunities, as well as to highlight what actions can be taken or changes made in order to realize them.


Who has the best BBQ in Nashville?

This is an area of much debate here in Music City (and I'm sure many would disagree with me), but I would vote for Jack's or Edley's. As a native Texan, I typically prefer smoked sausage or brisket to pulled pork, and in my opinion, Jack's does these better than most places in town (but Edley's cole slaw is better!).


What interest do you have outside of work that might surprise us?
My primary outside interest is also another vocation: I am a part-time professional musician, playing double bass, electric bass, tuba, and euphonium. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to perform with the likes of Dennis DeYoung (former lead singer of Styx), Grand Ole Opry star Porter Wagoner, comedian Joan Rivers, and the Nashville Symphony, among others. These days, most of my performances are as a member of the pit orchestra for many of the touring Broadway musicals when they come through Nashville.


If you had to work on only one project for the next year, what would it be?
In my role at Vanderbilt, I am responsible for helping lead the implementation and application of analytics for population health management, so by default this is going to be my one project for the next year (and likely beyond). There is much work to be done in this area, however, so it's actually one project with a LOT of subprojects!


What is the INFORMS journal you read the most? Why?
By far my favorite is Interfaces due to its focus on application. Since I also teach, INFORMS Transactions on Education is another go-to of mine, especially for project ideas.


How do you relax?
When I find those few opportunities during which I actually can relax, I usually like to read, play the bass, or listen to music. If the weather is nice, my wife and I will occasionally join some of our good friends on their pontoon boat for an afternoon out on Percy Priest Lake.


Name three uses of a stapler that has no staples. 

1) A hammer, 2) a doorstop, 3) a movie prop (painted red, of courseā€¦a reference to Office Space, one of my all-time favorite movies!).