As technology companies apply data analytics to virtually everything from Web traffic to movie recommendations, many are seeing health care as the next frontier. Companies from established contractors to start-ups are pitching data analysis as a critical way to improve the way doctors, patients, insurers and government bodies manage health care.
The rush of fresh ideas encompasses a range of solutions, but the marketing is often the same: They all purport to address the rising cost of health care.
The pitches were on display last week as private companies, health care groups and government officials gathered in the District for a conference dubbed Health Datapalooza.
The event, which took over much of the Omni Shoreham Hotel, featured Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, who used the event to announce the release of more government information, from county-level data on Medicare spending to the average cost of various hospital outpatient procedures.
At last week’s event, companies were eager to share their ideas on how data might be harnessed to better manage health care. Omaha-based HDR Architecture, which has offices in Maryland and Virginia, showed how it is using data to make better use of hospital space.
The Nebraska Medical Center, for instance, was planning to add to its facilities. It brought in HDR to help it identify how much and how best to grow.
The architecture firm compiled surgery data from the hospital and compared it with assumptions and benchmarks from other medical centers. HDR was able to simulate the actual pace and location of surgeries on campus to determine how much extra capacity the facility needed — saving the hospital from building operating rooms that might go unused.
McLean-based Booz Allen Hamilton showcased its own technology, aimed at analyzing claims data to weigh pricing and root out fraud.
The company has developed an application that groups individual claims together into what it calls an “episode.” For instance, if a patient gets hip replacement surgery, the system pools together the claims for the procedure as well as for physical therapy and any appointment related to complications.
“By looking holistically at an episode of care and pooling the claims data together, all of a sudden you get a completely different picture,” said Juergen Klenk, a principal at Booz Allen, in an interview after the event.
The data can give insurers insight into how much a procedure costs, the range of prices for the same procedure and whether some patients are getting unnecessary services related to a particular episode.
Additionally, the app, whose development was funded by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, can help insurers notice patterns that might identify fraud, Klenk said.
Other companies focused their efforts on helping consumers take advantage of data. U.S. News & World Report has started a ranking of the best health insurance plans available for individuals.
Steve Sternberg, deputy health rankings editor at the digital magazine, said the company established the site a year ago using the data that underlies healthcare.gov.
The new site “is very easy to use,” he said at the conference. “Healthcare.gov — operating with the best of intentions — is not so easy to use.”
Klenk said the health care field is just starting to realize the value of data — and its ability to save providers, insurers and even patients money.
“We’re only seeing these early beginnings,” he said. “Getting full value from all the health care data is something that I think will drive innovation and business over the next decade or two.”