Correction to This Article
This article incorrectly said that MedAssurant founder and chief executive Keith R. Dunleavy studied at MIT in addition to Harvard. He got his undergraduate degree in biology and engineering from Dartmouth and his medical degree from Harvard.

Health-Care Data Firm Moves to Bowie

Monday, October 13, 2008

While so much of the economy is faltering these days, the health-care sector continues to grow. And that, in turn, has fueled the burgeoning field of managing and analyzing health-care data.

The latest evidence of this is taking up residence in a sleek new high-rise in Bowie. MedAssurant, a 10-year-old company that began in Michigan and then moved to Annapolis, is relocating its headquarters to Prince George's County. In the process, it is making its presence known in much the same way as it has conducted its business: quietly, but with growing impact.

This is intentional, said founder and chief executive Keith R. Dunleavy, a Harvard-educated internist who also studied engineering at MIT: "If one comes in like a bull in the china closet, you're not going to be effective."

He's talking as much about the company's move as he is about his business. Helping health-care companies manage their data can be lucrative, but companies must tread carefully through concerns about medical privacy and how the information might influence medical decisions. MedAssurant and other health-care data analytics firms are hoping to build confidence in their systems by making them more precise and effective in improving consumer care, he said.

MedAssurant collects, maintains and then aggregates data for a variety of different clients, including health-insurance plans, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and regulatory agencies. It pores over that data to identify more cost-efficient care options and to help companies manage risk.

Other firms, including Maryland-based Resolution Health, and services, such as GE Healthcare, Microsoft HealthVault and Google Health, are pursuing similar goals in trying to collect and understand health data -- a sometimes daunting task.

Health care, Dunleavy said, "is not a system where all relevant data comes from the same place in the same form," citing myriad forms of record-keeping by pharmacies, diagnostic facilities, doctors' offices and medical centers.

"Some of it comes as ones and zeros and some of it comes as thoughts written on charts," he said.

Credit card, cellular and other telecommunications firms know almost instantaneously their customers' costs and usages, Dunleavy said. In the world of health care, "you can have treatment one day in a physician's office and the next afternoon end up in a medical center across town, and they will have no idea what you had been treated for the day before."

He points, in part, to the proprietary nature of health records and the dizzyingly complex structure of providers. But he also suggests that "there's a need for more of a comfort level in the greater community for the right kind of data collection and usage. Studies show that when people have more information, they make better decisions about care and about their own behaviors."

The company got a boost last month when Swiss pharmaceutical scion Andre Hoffman, a vice chairman of Roche Holdings, invested $175 million in MedAssurant, making him the largest outside shareholder in the firm.

MedAssurant is a private company and does not report financials. Dunleavy said it has been profitable for the past four years, with triple-digit revenue growth and no debt. With this expansion, the company expects to grow to 2,000 employees, he said.

-- Anita Huslin

© 2008 The Washington Post Company