January 19, 2021

How Firefly Health is creating a better patient experience with dbt

dbt results

As developer #1 at PillPack, a healthcare startup, Jacob Mulligan was accustomed to using data to create better patient experiences. He stepped into the role of data analyst #1 at Firefly Health with the intention to build an analytics team that was not only rewarding to be a part of, but would have a significant impact on the business.

But it wouldn’t be easy. Jacob’s previous work on data teams was heavily reliant on a team of engineers responsible for pulling, cleaning, and transforming data for analysts. At Firefly Health, Jacob would be a team of one. This felt foreign, but empowering. “In my previous role an analyst would make a request, the request would drop into an engineer’s backlog, and three weeks later a new dimension would appear, often lacking any understanding of the original business context.”

Jacob knew if he had the tools to access and transform data on his terms, he could really make a difference. The advent of the modern data stack, and cloud warehousing specifically, presented that opportunity. This would lay the foundation for the high-leverage team he envisioned.

Cloud warehousing and the data standardization provided by modern data loaders re-defined the role of the analyst. Tasks only accessible to engineers could be performed by analysts without leaving the warehouse.
Why Firefly Health needed a new way to manage data transformations

With Snowflake, Fivetran, and Looker in place, Jacob found he could operate as a team of one.

The tradeoff?

A dramatic increase in the volume of low-leverage tasks he faced on a daily basis.

Cleaning was tedious, testing was ad-hoc, and “quick questions” from stakeholders could consume entire afternoons. The new stack worked, but the “bubble gum and tape” method he crafted wouldn’t scale.

To expect anyone new to understand the pipeline I had created, would have been tough. It was just this mysterious analytics server managed by me. I really needed a way to ensure consistency as the team grew.

When searching for the missing piece of the data stack that would help him expand his team, Jacob was guided by three core requirements:

1. Data must inform product direction, not just report on it

“One of our core differentiators is how we leverage data to optimize and personalize an otherwise insanely complex and siloed healthcare system. Rapid, reliable, and accessible data is at the center of our ability to deliver value.”

2. Data engineering must be self-serve for analysts. Data insights must be self-serve for the entire organization

“I needed something that would enable us to spend more time delivering business insights than unwinding broken scripts, or investigating irregular dashboards.”

3. Data should be consistent and trustworthy across all views

“I really wasn’t able to test with the same rigor I was used to as a developer.”

Introducing dbt

As a former developer, Jacob immediately recognized the value of dbt Cloud’s analytics engineering workflow. Job scheduling, reusable code, and continuous delivery help him increase analytic velocity. Regimented testing, code review, and integrated documentation provide the “reliability” element reminiscent of his developer days.

dbt Cloud solves all those problems for me. It makes me feel like I’m spending more time delivering business insights than managing infrastructure, trying to pinpoint errors in formatting, or deciphering why a job failed.

dbt Cloud helped Jacob create a high-leverage data team that excelled in several areas:

Increased speed and productivity with reusable, modular elements

“In the 12 months before dbt, when we were using our old analytics server/Crontab/Python setup, I created 4 models. In the ~2 months since launching dbt, we’ve created 15.”

Reduced risk of error through routine testing

“We ship every model with tests now. Prior to dbt… we didn’t even test our python transform scripts.”

Increased cross-org collaboration and transparency

“Our Looker dashboards serve insights to more than 50 business users who access the system on a daily basis.”

Driving organizational alignment by matching metrics to company values

Firefly Health has three core value drivers which map to several business KPIs. dbt increases accessibility of the data needed to track progress against each.

dbt allows us to set, and track metrics-driven goals for almost everything we do. Every metric we track aligns to our core values, and is presented in that context to all business users.

Pillar 1: Crazy convenient care and effective virtual-first medical care across the spectrum

Firefly removes barriers to care by making telehealth onboarding and activation easier. “Our goal is to make the patient experience so easy and accessible that 100% of new members complete an appointment or health assessment with the team of professionals we match them to.”

How the data team helps: “We strive to reply to 100% of new patients requesting care in under 30 minutes, and all clinically urgent cases in under 15 minutes. dbt helps us create models we use to track and analyze these response times.”

Pillar 2: Intelligent and effective navigation through every corner of care

Firefly Health empowers patients to be more proactive about their health. But they’ve also created tools to help employers prioritize workplace health and safety. “Our Return to Work service enables employers to request daily health assessments directly through the platform. Employees reporting illness receive custom care plans within 30 minutes. Rapid response is crucial here, but quality of care can’t be overlooked. We use network utilization data to quickly source the right specialist, and match by proximity, price, availability, and quality of care.”

How the data team helps: As providers reach capacity, sourcing care plans becomes more difficult. “Routine testing in dbt gives us confidence that the provider we’ve selected and the care plan assigned is correct.” dbt also plays a role in how employers access that information. “Employers can check who is and isn’t ready to resume work, so they can plan backfill, or reach out to check that they’re ok.”

Pillar 3: New alignment among members, sponsor, and Firefly

Firefly Health creates a weekly report that shows the ER admission rate of their patient population. This benchmark is widely used by healthcare professionals to measure effectiveness of preventative care, though real-time access to these insights was usually difficult to achieve.

How the data team helps: “dbt powers the dashboards we use to quickly compare our rates to national averages. Today, we can see we’re out-performing the market, but our goal is to reduce that metric by a further 20%. dbt will help us track progress.”


About Firefly Health

Firefly Health offers empathy-driven virtual primary care, administered by a world-class clinical team and network of trusted clinical partners, powered by intuitive technology and (finally) built around people. By breaking down the barriers between primary care, behavioral health, and specialty care, we create an experience that is unrivaled in healthcare (or any other industry). Our mission is to deliver half-priced healthcare that’s twice as good, clinically and emotionally. Simply put, it’s the care you deserve. For more information, visit firefly.health or call (855) 869-9284.

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