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Empowering Healthcare with R: Javier Orraca-Deatcu’s Journey from Finance to Predictive Health Models

By September 25, 2023Blog

Javier Orraca-Deatcu of the Southern California R User Group (SoCal RUG) highlighted his work at a health insurance company for quality of life improvements through data science models. He uses R for predicting health issues in Medicare and Medicaid populations and alerting their care management teams about preventive measures and lifestyle changes to prevent these issues. He shares in-depth insight into how R has the potential to impact the lives of the elderly population. He also advises R users to start their own R user groups within their companies to expand their network.

Javier has a Bachelor’s degree in Management from the Georgia Institute of Technology. He also holds a Master’s in Business Analytics from the University of California, Irvine (UCI). He works as the Lead Machine Learning Engineer at Centene Corporation. Javier co-organizes the SoCal RUG and is also a co-founder of the Centene R Users Group. 

Please share about your background and your involvement in the R Community. What is your level of experience with the R language?

My traditional background before I pivoted into data science was financial modeling. I was doing valuations and assisting with the lifecycle of mergers and acquisitions. At the time, I was maximizing the capabilities of Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Access. Around 2015, I started hearing chatter about “data science” and became interested in how to augment my financial forecasts and simulations with code. I quit my job, returned to graduate school, and was able to dedicate all of my time to learning about business analytics, data science, and R.

The Southern California R Users Group conducts an annual hackathon, which they host in collaboration with the UCI. I was enrolled in the Master of Business Analytics program at the UCI, and I joined the hackathon with a team of classmates. That’s when I met the organizers of SoCal RUG, and it was great to network with like-minded members of the data science community.

What industry are you currently in? How do you use R in your work?

I work for a healthcare insurance company, Centene, and it was pretty exciting to see us become a Fortune 25 corporation earlier this year. Our core business is to manage care insurance products covering mostly government-sponsored healthcare insurance like Medicaid and Medicare. We are fortunate to have robust access to health data since we manage our members’ care. As a data scientist and MLE at Centene, it’s exciting that I can apply modeling techniques to support quality-of-life improvements, such as early disease identification.

Why do industry professionals come to your user group? What is the benefit for attending?

The big appeal is to network with a very diverse group of professionals in many different industries. The opportunity to come together and brainstorm problems is invaluable. We provide technical workshops and monthly meetups with new information to learn from our presenters and passionate members of the R community. 

What trends do you currently see in R language and your industry? Any trends you see developing in the near future?

I’m doing less data storytelling these days with interactive visualizations and web apps, but the evolution we are seeing with Shiny and new opinionated Shiny frameworks has been a delight. Shiny is quickly maturing as a web app framework, and it’s becoming, in my opinion, a go-to enterprise web app framework with more and more recognition. In addition, the tidyverse and tidy syntax have made it much easier for non-programmers (people without a computer science or software engineering background) to adopt R for their business needs.

Throughout grad school and professionally, I have had exposure to several other languages, including Python and Julia. But for data analysis and manipulation, it’s just so easy to do with R. The rate at which the tidymodels framework matures has also been impressive. This modeling framework acts as a sort of meta-engine that helps data scientists develop reproducible, end-to-end machine learning workflows and pipelines. The ability to develop a modeling workflow purpose-built for fast iteration, consumption at scale, and production are all big wins for corporate data scientists and MLEs.

Anything else you would like to share with R Users around the globe?

For R enthusiastic professionals who regularly educate their coworkers about modern use cases for R. I recommend starting an internal R user group at your company — it’s a great way to network internally and share knowledge. I helped start the Centene R Users Group in 2019, and in six months, I saw our monthly meetups grow from less than 10 people to over 100 participants. I’ve met a lot of new teams and groups that I would have otherwise never had the opportunity to come in contact with.