Professor of Economics
Co-Director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics
School of Economics
Getting data to tell a useful story is a simple description of the complex work that is done by Sri Lankan born health economist Professor Rhema Vaithianathan.
Professor Vaithianathan has a strong interest in extracting insights from linked administrative data (data that has been collected primarily for administrative reasons). Her expertise in ‘getting data to talk’ is well known internationally, which leads to a lot of collaboration with international research teams, and work on international data sets.
Professor Vaithianathan is constantly searching for new challenges in the form of linked administrative data that could help to solve problems, particularly problems relating to health, social and educational outcomes.
She is a strong believer that research should make a positive difference to the lives of people, hence her passion for creating new and useful information from existing data.
One of Professor Vaithianathan’s current research projects is with the University of Southern California (USC) School of Social Work where she is part of a research team working to identify how communities foster resilience in young children and their families. The team is using information from the USC Children’s Data Network to characterise children who are at higher risk of negative outcomes and then identify clusters of children where observed rates of adversities are significantly lower than expected. The aim is to identify ‘protective’ factors operating at the community level that could potentially be replicated.
Other recent research includes the creation of a statistical model that measures the likelihood of individual hospital patients being readmitted, development of a New Zealand predictive risk model that can identify the likelihood of children suffering abuse, and a similar piece of work in the United States for Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County (Pittsburgh). In Pittsburgh, Professor Vaithianathan has led the development of a predictive tool that will assist call screeners to decide which calls about alleged child maltreatment should be investigated further.
Since completing her Master of Commerce and Doctorate in Economics at the University of Auckland, Professor Vaithianathan has published widely in health economics. Her career has included stints as a Harkness Fellow at Harvard, a policy analyst at the New Zealand Treasury and a Foreign Scholar at Hitotsubashi University in Japan.
In addition to her AUT role, Professor Vaithianathan is a visiting Professor of Economics and Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Research on the Economics of Ageing (CREA) at Singapore Management University. In 2015 she was appointed to the New Zealand Data Future Working Group, an independent group that established by the Government to expand the use of data and develop ethical guidelines around its use.
Professor Vaithianathan is a co-director of the Centre for Social Data Analytics, an AUT research centre focused on data analytics for social impact.