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Health Data May Create $300 Billion in Efficiencies, Study Says

By Kerry Young, CQ HealthBeat Associate Editor

July 9, 2014 -- With its potential to educate patients, spot fraud, and detect risk factors for disease, expanded use of digital health information, or big data, long has been considered a path to curbing growth in medical costs.

"Big data may have the potential to create approximately $300 billion annually in value in the health care sector, two-thirds of which would be generated by lowering health care expenditures," said Joachim Roski, a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton and coauthor of an overview paper in the journal Health Affairs that examines the promise of information technology and medicine.

The estimate weighs in how much could be saved as increased reliance on health data helps shape decisions about how to treat individual patients. It also looks at how using data about a patient can help in tailoring messages about healthier lifestyles.

The authors cited Veterans Health Administration efforts to launch a number of mobile health care initiatives that target specific patients and providers through the rapid collections and analysis of patient-generated data.

Looking at broad collections of patient data can reveal patterns that might have been missed by examining smaller groups.

"One example is the Durkheim Project, a collaboration between the Veterans Health Administration and Facebook, which is using real-time prediction software to analyze voluntary, opt-in data from veterans' social media accounts and mobile phones for suicide risk prevention," the authors wrote.

They noted that using more sophisticated data analysis, instead of manual documentation, was estimated to have recovered more than $4 billion for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in 2011.

Privacy concerns will need to be addressed to get the greatest value of using health data, the authors wrote. High-profile leaks and breaches of data confidentiality have made many consumers question how well their medical histories can be protected.

"To realize big data's promise, health organizations and policy makers alike may need to set aside traditional mind-sets and embrace new approaches, overcoming barriers to promote data sharing with appropriate protections, and collaboratively working toward the goal of delivering better outcomes at lower costs," the authors conclude.

In the same issue, Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) Administrator Marilyn Tavenner and other agency officials present work being done at the agency to aid in what they call the "Big-Data Revolution."

CMS has been at the helm of the troubled launch of the health exchanges, which are a key feature of the 2010 health law (PL 111-148, PL 111-152). In the Health Affairs article, though, CMS gets a forum for discussing how that law altered its role and the technological changes it has made in recent years.

CMS, for example, has had a delay of one to two years in its generation of performance metrics. This was due to efforts to make sure CMS had collected all of the necessary data from providers of health care, including adjustments to the original claims.

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