Pacific Blue Cross opens big-data lab at SFU

Using big data to improve healthcare delivery, decision-making and outcomes is the target of a new research partnership between Simon Fraser University and Pacific Blue Cross (PBC).

The Pacific Blue Cross Health Informatics Lab, housed at SFU, will advance computational health research and provide a new venue for collaboration between industry and academia.

The lab will bring together faculty members from several key disciplines at SFU, including data science, big data, statistics, health science, business administration, information visualization and communication, as well as security and privacy. Professor Jian Pei, Canada Research Chair in Big Data Science, who runs the SFU Intelligent Data Engineering and Analytics Lab (IDEAL), will oversee research and training for the new partnership. The lab is expected to host several faculty members and up to 10 postdoctoral fellows and graduate students.

“This new lab provides SFU an unprecedented platform to support the training of graduate students as data scientists in the fast-growing field of health informatics,” says Pei. “Over the next three years, the lab will focus on creating data-inspired and technology-enabled business intelligence for the healthcare industry.”

Health informatics — tools for managing and delivering healthcare, including the collection, use and disclosure of information — lies at the intersection of healthcare delivery, computing science and information technology.

“It is appropriate that SFU, with its longstanding history of interdisciplinary research, is opening this space for researchers across the university to work together with Pacific Blue Cross experts to provide solutions to pressing informatics challenges,” says Joy Johnson, SFU Vice-President, Research. “Industry-academic partnerships fuel SFU’s innovation strategy by providing a portal through which our researchers can contribute their talent, technology and transformative ideas.”

Pacific Blue Cross, which provides a wide range of health insurance benefits for 1.5 million British Columbians, is investing $300,000 in the project over the next three years. "We are excited to lead the development of next-generation technology with SFU," says Jan K. Grude, Pacific Blue Cross President and CEO.

SFU’s School of Computing Science has been ranked among the top 50 computing science departments in the world according to the 2014 Academic Ranking of World Universities. Computing science faculty members have expertise in all areas of big data, from data mining and knowledge discovery algorithms to cloud computing and visual analytics. The lab will become an important venue for working on industry-relevant issues that have the potential to impact the community at large.

“This is a unique opportunity to conduct research beneficial to the broader community through access to massive population data sets and health care statistics,” said Uwe Glässer, dean pro tem of SFU’s Faculty of Applied Sciences. “Pacific Blue Cross is an important health benefits provider in B.C. and the lab has the potential to deliver better health care to people in the province through greater understanding of population health issues.”