Can geography research help solve population health issues in Chicago? Perspectives of an academic-turned consultant

Can geography research help solve population health issues in Chicago? Perspectives of an academic-turned consultant

By now the concept of a ‘food desert’ has become a common term in diet and obesity research: it is a place where few grocery stores or healthy food options are accessible to residents, and as a result may cause obesity or other health problems. Using the same concept, what if instead we focused on health behaviors and outcomes for those who live in ‘doctor deserts’, in areas where there are few primary care physicians or clinics nearby. Where do patients who live in doctor deserts seek health care? Does a lack of doctors in a patient’s neighborhood drive them to go to nearby emergency room for conditions that a primary doctor could treat, like a sinus infection or joint pain?

These questions were the centerpiece of my recently published journal article which was developed as part of my master’s thesis in geography at the University of Illinois. Among other findings, the research validated that spatial access to care – how close someone lives to a doctor geographically – does play a role in preventable emergency department visits. People living in areas with fewer medical resources were more likely to visit the emergency room for preventable conditions in Chicago. As a result, patient geography is viable analytic lens through which to examine health care outcomes and utilization, one which is still relatively untapped and ripe for future research.

Although this research was conducted largely before joining West Monroe Partners, drafting the article in the evenings and weekends over the past year while being a West Monroe Advanced Analytics consultant has allowed me to reflect on how my publication of this research reflects our values at West Monroe, specifically how we encourage diversity of thought and backgrounds.

Take my first interaction with West Monroe as an example. Approaching companies of interest at a business career fair can be an unnerving task for any student, much less a non-business student like I was when I met West Monroe a few years ago. While I had the pleasure of speaking with great people from many other well-respected consulting companies, West Monroe was the only company that not only fully grasped the impact of my research, but also said my unique background in geography and statistics would be a great fit in the Advanced Analytics practice. This spoke volumes about West Monroe’s approach to new ideas and willingness to hire candidates with diverse backgrounds like myself.

Now a current analytics and data science consultant, I am inspired by West Monroe’s culture of open ideas to continue applying new methodologies and perspectives that help clients gain deep – and previously unseen – insights from their data. Whether the objective is to use geography and data science to help local hospitals save money by reducing preventable emergency department visits or to help a utility company further understand the needs of its customers through data analysis and study of the customer experience, I am encouraged by the inclusivity of my peers and willingness of the company to support new ideas.

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