UT-Austin supercomputing center provides aid for Children's Optimal Health

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The UT-Austin Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC) is providing data storage and security for Children’s Optimal Health (COH) to help assess the quality of child health on a community-level basis in the greater Austin area.

The COH is a non-profit organization that collects and analyzes data on the geographical distribution of factors affecting childhood health, said COH representative Susan Millea. Their analyses aim to improve policy decisions affecting children’s well-being.

“Children’s Optimal Health was formed to serve as an independent, trusted third party that could receive data from community partners … to envision and assess what the needs are at the neighborhood level,” Millea said.

The COH analyzes the presence of community assets, such as the distribution of health care coverage, medical clinic location, disease incidence, parental employment, school district assignment, housing cost, parental commute time and more, Millea said.

“We look at data that would not only reflect the geographic distance (to health care services), but also … the social variables that would impact access to care,” Millea said.

The COH also analyzes data regarding a wide range of childhood health issues, such as obesity and behavioral issues, according to Millea.

“When we’re working on projects, we’re looking at health disparities as experienced by children,” she said. “And we’re looking at equity issues associated with those disparities.”

The TACC is providing the COH with both a data storage platform and much-needed security, said Chris Jordan, a TACC representative.

“There’s a reliability component,” Jordan said. “We apply data protection measures within the data center that allow us to have high confidence … that there are backup copies of data stored (and) nothing’s going to corrupt it.”

Much of the educational and health care information being processed by the COH is confidential by order of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), Jordan said. In addition to ensuring that the COH’s data won’t be lost, the TACC is also providing access-related security measures for these sensitive personal records.

“The essential part is that we have both a HIPAA and FERPA-compliant secure data environment,” Millea said. “(An environment) that can be trusted by all of those who would choose to share their data with us.”

In addition to storage and security, the partnership may also allow the COH to more easily collaborate with UT researchers, the Dell Medical School and the Population Research Center, Millea said.

“What the TACC system is setting up for us is an increased potential to work more closely with university systems … and the data that they’re using,” she said. “They are also working hard to address these issues that affect children and families.”

Analyzing data to better inform social policy is a new and expanding area of study, Jordan said.

“This is a good example of how we see the ubiquity of data and statistical analysis,” Jordan said. “It’s extending the reach of institutions like TACC and the way that we’re able to have an impact in areas like the social sciences.”