UMass Medical School data analytics director working to help solve clients' problems

June 02, 2016

Abigail R. Averbach has a longstanding enthusiasm for integrating and exposing health data for decision-makers, and she has found her niche at UMass Medical School developing information to answer important questions for clients, such as the fiscal impact of community-based care versus institutional care for elders.

“I enjoy the challenge of working with clients to sort out their key questions and what data we’re going to need to answer them,” said Averbach, MSc, director of the Office of Data Analytics in UMass Medical School’s Commonwealth Medicine division.

Averbach is responsible for developing new analytic services, opportunities and relationships with clients in the health care field, and implementing strategies for success in the analytics market. She works very closely with Data Management Services Senior Director Frederick Perro, MBA, MS, and Melissa Clark, PhD, senior director of Research and Evaluation. Averbach draws upon data scientists, researchers, business analysts and subject matter experts from across Commonwealth Medicine to build project teams.

The Office of Data Analytics, established in July 2014, expands Commonwealth Medicine’s capability to provide analytics services to meet the demand created by new federal policies and the formation of Accountable Care Organizations.

 “We’ve expanded the breadth of the data services we provide to include data integration and reporting and prescriptive analytics, in addition to program evaluation and research. We draw upon our deep subject matter expertise in health care policy, financing and delivery to ensure that our analytic reports support executive-level decision-making and are actionable,” said Averbach, who joined Commonwealth Medicine in 2004.

“Our niche is our deep expertise in Medicaid, long-term services and supports, disabilities, payment reform and health policy. We don’t just run the data and hand it off, we can say what the data mean, present options and assess the impact of one decision over another,” Averbach said.

One of the Office of Data Analytics’ key projects is the Long-Term Services and Supports (LTSS) Policy Lab. The policy lab serves as a resource to help state agencies plan programs and forecast fiscal needs as the population of older residents grows. The number of Massachusetts residents over age 65 is expected to increase by 60 percent from 2010 to 2030, while the number of people under age 65 is projected to decrease by 4.5 percent.

The policy lab analyzes such topics as variations in the cost of care relative to an elder’s health status and predictions of adverse health outcomes to inform real-time interventions.

The policy lab is becoming a national model for aggregating LTSS service utilization and claims data, and providing interactive reports for examining trends in access, quality and cost.

Averbach has followed a diverse career path with a commitment to public service. She began her tenure at Commonwealth Medicine as a senior project director and served as director of its Office of Massachusetts Client Relations from 2008-2011 before becoming chief of staff. She worked at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health from 1995 to 2004, first as an epidemiologist and then as the founding director of the Office of Research and Evaluation for the HIV/AIDS bureau.

Averbach has a bachelor’s degree in communications from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in public health, with an emphasis on biostatistics and epidemiology, from UMass Amherst. She spent the first decade of her career working in journalism and public relations. She said her career has been about finding and using evidence, whether as an epidemiologist to make decisions in health care or as a journalist working to get the facts.

In 2015 Averbach was appointed the first chair of a reconstituted Worcester Board of Health with regulatory power. On June 1 the board voted to raise the minimum age for the purchase of tobacco products from 18 to 21. The board also has focused on such issues as opioid addiction and restrictions on the use of tanning beds by teens.