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Keri Rainsberger is director of data services at AFC. AFC Photos-Ed Negron
By Eva Westley
Its not the most glamorous work: keeping track of visits to case managers, trips to the hospital, viral loads and housing applications for the thousands of people with HIV in Chicago.
But with government officials, funders, researchers and the members of the public clamoring for the best information about HIV/AIDS, turning these snippets of data into useful knowledge about the AIDS epidemic is a critical challenge.
Enter Keri Rainsberger.
I get really excited by solving puzzles and all the little numbers, said Rainsberger, director of quality assurance and supportive services for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC). When you get super excited about really small things youre a geek, and since I get excited about data, Im a data geek.
With her colleague, Hal Barnett, she manages ClientTrack, AFCs database that holds medical indicators, case management and housing information, and even mental health histories, for over 5,000 people who receive services through AFCs funded partner agencies.
Rainsberger, 35, has degrees in geography, French, and library science, and originally hails from Columbus, Ohio.
In questions about her personal life, she was soft-spoken, though direct. When the conversation shifted to data, she cracked a wide grin. Rainsberger was ready to talk data. What follows is an edited transcript of the conversation.
Inside Story: How would you describe ClientTrack to someone who isnt familiar with case management in the AIDS sector?
Keri Rainsberger: We track the care and services of over 5,000 clients who receive services through the AIDS Foundation of Chicagos funded programs. That includes things like case management, but also housing. Our clients trust us with a lot of data about their mental health history, their substance use history, their general health, their HIV history, who their provider of care is, things like that. That allows us to track whats going on with the clients that were serving.
Part of what we hope to be able to do is then use all this information theyve trusted us with to actually make improvements in the system. For example if we see that a lot of our clients have substance use issues, is there maybe funding specifically to get more experience in that? Are those maybe trainings we need to do with the case managers?
Those are things that were able to identify because of the data that were collecting.
IS: A database like this sounds useful in theory, but what are some of the challenges that youve come up against when using it in real life, or in the wild, as you say?
KR: With 30-some case managers, each case managers going to fill things out slightly differently. And for them its not the highest priority to put the data in the database. Their highest priority is making sure that the client in front of them is getting the care they need. Theres all sorts of things like that, whereas when you have kind of a laboratory setting you know, everythings set and clear; its a little easier to have cleaner data.
Rainsberger, at left, examines data with colleague Hal Barnett.
IS: Many of our partners have multiple databases that they have to enter client data into. Is ClientTrack just another hoop for people to jump through?
KR: Our hope for ClientTrack is that well actually be able to pull information back in from all those other databases I was working with one of our partners who has their electronic medical record, and they have their client case management database. Their medical providers cant see their case management stuff, and their case managers cant see their medical stuff -- and yet theyre supposed to be coordinating care!
So if we can figure out a way to bridge those databases then both sides of that clinic will have access to the rich information in both databases What we hope is that well actually be able to bring that information in to our centralized database and be able to look at things, you know, entirely.
IS: How does ClientTrack affect case managers and their clients?
KR: One of the things that our region has been facing is the HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) dollars that fund housing for people with AIDS. The priorities for where that funding is being spent were changed and the system has been losing housing advocates. ... What were finding is that medical case managers who are supposed to be helping to coordinate medical care are having to do housing referrals for their clients because there arent housing advocates to refer their clients to.
A majority of our clients are low-income. Even if you dont have a chronic illness that youre having to deal with, when youre low-income just surviving is hard enough. So obviously youre going to have housing issues sometimes a lot of our clients are facing that. Unfortunately, that didnt result in more housing advocates.
But we were able to say, This is an impact on the system. This is a major consideration for our clients.
IS: How can data geeks contribute to the fight against AIDS?
KR: I think there are a lot of ways, because we can actually look at how our system is serving people who are impacted by HIV. And we can see whether there are new needs developing And also, you know, just figuring out: Are services doing what theyre meant to be doing? If a client comes in without housing, are they leaving with housing? If a client comes in and theyre not in medical care, do they leave in medical care and with their viral load suppressed?
We can identify areas where its not working, and get that back to the program teams who can then change things to make sure that the systems working better.
I guess for me, my best days are when a case manager will send a suggestion like, Why does ClientTrack do this? or Why that? and Im able to take their suggestion and turn it into something that works better for them. I know that the less time that they spend dealing with the database the more time they can spend dealing with the clients issues.
Its just such a neat feeling to know that because of my work, I made somebody elses work easier, which means they have more time to focus on more important things than just getting data into a database.
IS: Anything to add?
KR: Data geeks rule!
Categorized under Inside Story.