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Lumen Scholar dives into the data to help drive health care changes

Justin Morin '17 is among the recipients of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship and celebrates their academic and creative accomplishments. 

Lumen Prize Scholar Justin Morin with his research mentor Katy Rouse, associate professor of economics

While physicians and surgeons use exam rooms and scalpels to improve the public’s health, Justin Morin ’17 has turned to expansive data sets and statistical analysis tools to do his part.

The economics and finance major has been diving deep into the medical data from more than 60,000 people to try to untangle the complex relationships between a person’s health and their income levels. As a Lumen Scholar, Morin is working to shed new light on an area that’s seen little direct research as he sorts through scores of variables between a person’s economic state and the likelihood they will end up hospitalized.

Morin’s statistical approach to examining the broad range of factors that can impact a person’s health could shed light on how medical providers can address a person’s health more broadly, as the health care industry seeks innovations to help improve the quality of care and reduce its cost.

“I’ve always been drawn to the numbers and the reasons why things are how they are,” said Morin, a first-generation college student from Norwich, Connecticut.

Morin is pursuing his research as a recipient of the Lumen Prize, which provides selected students with a $15,000 scholarship to support and celebrate their academic and creative achievements. Lumen Scholars work closely with faculty mentors to pursue and complete their projects. Efforts include coursework, study abroad, research both on campus and abroad as well as during the regular academic year and summers, internships locally and abroad, program development and creative productions and performances. The name for the Lumen Prize comes from Elon’s historic motto, “Numen Lumen,” the Latin words for “spiritual light” and “intellectual light.”

Morin had initially been drawn to a career in health care, and quickly decided that practicing medicine wasn’t the route he wanted to take. Instead, with his interest in business and economics, he determined that he’d like to explore health care administration. “I didn’t necessarily love the science of medicine,” Morin said. “Health care administration seemed the way to go. Numbers clicked with me, and that path made sense.”

Katy Rouse, associate professor of economics and Morin’s Lumen Prize research mentor, said he sought her out shortly after arriving at Elon when he learned that her focus was on health economics to talk about research in that area, and about the Lumen Prize. “He came to talk with me within the second week he was at Elon,” Rouse said. “That was super impressive — it was his second week on campus, and he’s seeking out professors to talk about the Lumen Prize.”

An Honors Fellow, Morin first began exploring the broader link between income levels and the likelihood a person suffering from a variety of ambulatory care sensitive conditions, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure, would have to be hospitalized. Given how much focus there is on how to address these types of conditions and reduce the cost of care, Morin said “it seemed like a great place to dive in.”

Working with Rouse, Morin found studies that had looked at the link between income and access to health care, but not many that took it a step further to see how income levels impacted people with this broad category of conditions and their hospitalization rates. “It can be hard to disentangle the direct effect of income rates on hospitalization for these conditions because there are other conditions that could be driving both,” Rouse said.

To dive into the issue, Morin focused on the immense pool of data gathered through the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, an initiative of the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality that tracks how health care dollars are spent on a group of 60,000 people nationwide during a 10-year period. In Rouse, he’s found a mentor who has been invaluable in teaching him how to process such a large amount of data and determine what connections, if any exist. Morin said it has been an adjustment to move to such a rich and complex data set from the simpler and tidier sets he’s worked with during earlier courses

“This is real data where we can see what has actually happened,” Morin said. “It allows me to look from the top level down to determine what’s actually happening on a statistical level. … Dr. Rouse has been phenomenal in helping me through this data processing.”

To access confidential portions of the data set, Morin and Rouse traveled to the federal agency in Washington, D.C., so that Morin could analyze data that’s accessible remotely for the public. Rouse said that Morin took the lead on arranging that trip, and in working with the contact at the data center to access the proper data and best understand it. “I’m acting as a mentor and a help, but while we were there, most of the discussion was between him and the person at the data center,” Rouse said. “The best part is he’s a very nice, fun student to work with.”

Being selected as a Lumen Scholar has provided the opportunity to really zero in on a research interest and to have the resources available to see it through, said Morin, who this spring is continuing to work through the data analysis with an eye on publishing the results of his work in the future. Beyond graduation, Morin said he is moving outside the health care realm to focus instead on credit risk with Credit Suisse, a firm he worked for in their health care department in summer 2016.

“One of the reasons I chose Elon was they were intent on focusing on developing me,” Morin said. “Being selected as a Lumen Scholar, they said not only are we here to support your project, but your growth as a scholar. I really feel like they have said, ‘take this opportunity and these resources, and go develop your talents.’”

 

Owen Covington,
Staff
2/2/2017 3:20 PM