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Big data holds promise, but won't cure all healthcare ills

Posted by: Dan Emerson on October 7, 2013

Can big data provide the cure for what ails the U.S. healthcare system? While some might consider data analytics a panacea to help achieve a more effective, efficient healthcare system, there are plenty of challenges to overcome, according to participants in a panel on "Fact or Fiction: Healthcare Big Data," at the recent 2013 StrataRx conference in Boston.

"Big data" refers to the use of high-tech tools and techniques to glean meaningful insights from massive amounts of information.

Dr. Chris Kryder, chairman of Chicago-based Valence Health, said the analytic capabilities have not yet caught up to the data. "It's very early in the game. In the spectrum of using data to generate really good outcomes for patients, we are just beginning. There is too much data and not enough knowledge. We need a lot of good analytics to move up the spectrum," said Dr. Kryder, whose firm helps doctors and hospitals share patient information and manage data.

Previously, Dr. Kryder founded D2Hawkeye in 2000, and sold his firm in 2009 to ISO. ISO went public as Verisk Analytics, which provides healthcare data analytics and predictive modeling services to large medical groups, health plans and employers. The company's products are used to manage clinical and financial risk.

"Of the more than 3,000 CPT procedure codes, there are probably only about 10 we have data elements that matter for managing chronic disease in a broad population," Dr. Kryder said. "We tend to build 'machines' that can process all 3,000 lab tests and their results. What we need to do is a much better job at focusing on a few lab tests that matter to health and disease."

Still, Dr. Kryder said he is "bullish about the future of medicine for some specialties and some hospitals as we move from volume-based care to value-based care - which will be a new golden age."

Another panelist, Charlie Baker, is an Entrepreneur in Residence at General Catalyst Partners and previously served as CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care (a $2 billion health plan), CEO of Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and Massachusetts Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Baker said the United States needs a more effective health system to replace an outdated one that is "fragmented, transactional and driven by procedures." Because more people are living longer with chronic diseases, about 10 percent of the population accounts for about 90 percent of healthcare costs. Health providers need to identify "where the biggest opportunities are to be proactive and nimble in managing your most complex populations." Better data, and more effective use of data, can help accomplish that, Baker said.

"If people can get to the point of taking 'big data' and turning it into manageable, real-time information we can use to make better decisions, we will see a lot more providers and organizations willing to deal with that."

In rethinking healthcare, Baker said one factor that needs to be dealt with is the independent nature of many physicians. "Physicians have always struggled with the notion that population health-management needs to be a team-based 'game'. Only about 15 percent of doctors think about this as team sport - the younger ones more than older."

The solution, Baker said, is creating a structure and operating model so that, going forward, population health management is a team game based on "science to help you do a better job."

The state of health data analytics is evolving rapidly, said Michael Weintraub, founder and CEO of Boston-based Humedica, which provides data analytics services to healthcare providers and life science organizations. Citing efforts like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' initiative to improve access to health data for providers and consumers, Weintraub predicted "you will see an exponential increase in the value of big data every six to 12 months, but you will also see an increase in frustration."

One reason is that the sheer volume and velocity of health data makes it difficult to use in ways that can help make healthcare more effective and efficient, Weintraub said.

Data can be used to make patients more accountable for their own health, Weintraub said, "but we need to get data in the hands of patients at specific moments in time when they can be influenced to do something" - such as changing their own health habits for the better. "The 'accountable patient' has got to play a bigger role."

[Photo by - TSI Healthcare]

Tags:  Entrepreneur, Startup, Healthcare, Big Data

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