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Ksenia Aleksankina: Accelerating Expert-Led Privacy-Preserving Technology for the Health Data Ecosystem

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October 9, 2022

Building on the best of industry and academia

Ksenia Aleksankina

Privacy Hub by Datavant offers industry-leading, independent HIPAA disclosure risk assessment and expert determination products and services, incorporating a breadth of analytical technologies and leveraging decades of experience of the world’s leading experts from across the field. Datavant’s privacy experts utilize advanced privacy-preserving methodologies and algorithms to assess single or joined datasets, all in a neutral, secure, and auditable environment.

Ksenia Aleksankina joined Privacy Hub (formerly Mirador Analytics) in 2020 and now leads the Data Technology team working on automating the expert determination process and building analytics tools for privacy experts. Below, Ksenia tells us more about working at Privacy Hub, and the journey that now has her leading a team at the intersection of patient privacy preservation and health data technology.

Interested in joining Datavant’s Privacy Hub team? We’re hiring!

Why did you join Datavant?

Datavant has all of the exciting aspects of a fast-growing tech company, but also has a truly good mission that is going to change the world for the better. Not many tech companies have this potential. I also joined because of the high caliber and collaborative nature of the team. I find that the team has a unique combination of soft and technical skills that are valuable for a real-world product and first-class service.

What is your role within the Privacy Hub team?

I work as the head of Data Technology and Engineering, leading a team of 4 (and we are currently hiring to grow the team). We focus on automations that will allow de-identification risks to be quantified and mitigated. We are looking to create a solution which provides rapid, expert-lead HIPAA certifications that will expedite data sharing.

Currently, my team is developing an automated expert determination solution. The goal is to automate data assessment and provide experts with a ‘digested’ report of the dataset contents so the experts can concentrate on the important part: risk assessment.

We are also working on automating dataset remediation, which is a common requirement to ensure the datasets are adequately de-identified. This will make data distribution easier while still delivering the value of identifying and helping mitigate risk that our clients expect.

What does “expert determination” mean and how do you go about automating it??

Privacy Hub’s privacy experts conduct data disclosure risk assessments, which are referred to as ‘Expert Determination Reports.’ The analysis focuses on finding the sources of re-identification risk and quantifying this risk. Expert Determination Reports support compliance with government regulations, such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), and play a critical role in protecting patient privacy when sharing health data, or joining datasets from different sources.

The expert determination process is thorough and detail-oriented, so finding ways to automate certain aspects of it can have an industry-changing impact on helping organizations share their data without creating certification bottlenecks. That’s where my team comes into play. We are creating new tools and products that make the process more efficient and transparent. This includes developing externally-facing products, like the Privacy Hub part of the Datavant Switchboard, as well as tools for internal expert teams (e.g., writing packages for privacy experts to speed up their day-to-day work), and supporting a separate cloud infrastructure in which experts can perform data analyses. This, in addition to other internal policy-based controls, allows our experts to remain neutral and independent.

I like that Privacy Hub combines aspects of building a product around a service (expert determination), as well as its focus on turning cutting-edge research into a real-life solution.

You have a strong background in academic research. How does research play a role in Privacy Hub’s services and product development?

Prior to my work in industry, I completed an undergraduate degree in Chemistry and my PhD at the University of Edinburgh. In my research, I focused on creating a framework for uncertainty estimation in large process models commonly used for health policy decision-making. It’s amazing to come full circle on the Privacy Hub team where I can combine my passion for research, health outcomes, and technology in the context of patient privacy preservation.

On the Privacy Hub team, research plays a key role in ensuring we are using the most up-to-date methods and frameworks when assessing the risk of a de-identified dataset. For example, population-level research plays a role in how we think about what information adds to the risk of re-identification for different groups. (E.g.: could the inclusion of a zip code elevate risk of re-identification for an individual in a sparsely populated area?) Another research question we keep top of mind at Privacy Hub is: how does our concept of privacy evolve in relation to our modern technological landscape where a lot of our personal information is captured online? When it comes to the privacy of Personal Identifiable Information (PII) in healthcare data, we need to make sure identifying details cannot be re-linked together, which is challenging considering how much of our data already exists online.

While at Datavant, I’ve never felt limited in what I can do. … I have been able to turn my ideas into real solutions that have real impact.

Tell us more about your career growth and learning journey while at Datavant.

I started out as a data scientist and privacy expert who was conducting expert determinations for clients. During my work as a data scientist, I got really interested in internal tool development, and my charter expanded to include our automation product development. From there, I was given the opportunity to participate in infrastructure and security work, which brings me to where I am currently, working as head of Data Technology and Engineering for Privacy Hub and leading a team of 4.

While at Datavant, I’ve never felt limited in what I can do. My managers and teammates have always listened to my ideas and given me the opportunity to create my dream career. I have been able to turn my ideas into real solutions that have real impact, whether it’s general improvements to team operations and processes, product development and design, or focusing on the automations of expert determinations. I’ve loved my journey to becoming a manager and leading a team because I have a passion for supporting people in their growth journeys and finding ways to guide people into meaningful, impactful work they love doing.

What would you like somebody considering joining Privacy Hub at Datavant to know?

Working on the Privacy Hub team is not just a box-ticking job, or a completing-a-ticket job, this job requires finding creative solutions to new types of problems. This is a job centered around innovation, exploration, and the discovery of creative solutions to new types of problems. Our ultimate goal is to ensure patient privacy in healthcare data while preserving the utility of this data; these two things are difficult to achieve together, and that makes for an incredibly interesting and impactful technical challenge.

Ksenia Aleksankina holds a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Edinburgh, and has a background in data science. Connect with Ksenia via LinkedIn.

Many thanks to Ksenia for taking the time for this interview. Interview compiled/edited by Kathy Khalvati, Nicholas DeMaison and Rebecca Slisz.

The Privacy Hub team is currently hiring. Check out our careers page and see us listed on the 2022 Forbes top startup employers in America. We’re currently hiring remotely across teams and would love to speak with any new potential Datvanters who are nice, smart, and get things done.

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