Now I am a Data Scientist. The conferences I usually go to are called thing like Strata, Predictive Analytics World and DataCon. At those meeting I am surround by people who do and understand what I do. Not so much at the Health Matters Conference. The attendees there were charities, CEOs of Healthcare Companies like Humana and Tenet along with many administrators working in the healthcare field. It was kind of odd to be so alone, but also refreshing hearing the views of non data scientist on the elements required to improve healthcare both from a cost and outcome basis.
These people are no programmers, statisticians and anything even close. Yet without exception they felt the critical elements to improving healthcare were Open Data and Open Models. That is a powerful statement given that it comes from experts in the field who are not experts in Data Science. However, a truer assessment could not be made. Without the existence of Open Data and the an open reproducible method to utilize that data there will be no system wide improvement in healthcare.
Healthcare today is where US Manufacturing was in the 1970s. Massive, inefficient and producing a low quality inconsistent product. Outside pressure forced them to change they way they did business. They used data to improve their process and started to deliver the superior quality product that their customers deserved on a consistent basis that their customers deserved. As the manufacturing companies were doing this they were also lowering their costs by reducing errors and increasing efficiency. This process had many names SPC, Six Sigma, TQM, Q1, etc., but the methods was the same. People had data and used publicly available approaches to analyze it.
There have been some early efforts to implement this kind of thing in Healthcare before, but they had been pretty unsuccessful or isolated in the effect for a number of reasons. This is supported by research that shows the US Healthcare system wastes $750 Billion a year and Medical Error Death is the third leading cause of death in the US. The reasons for this are many. Primary among them is that healthcare has long been a pay for service model rather than a paid for outcome. Therefore there was no financial incentive for healthcare to improve the health of patients. In fact, it was actually financially better for the providers for their patients to get worse and need more medical care and visits. That is slowly starting to change with the ACA which has within it penalties for hospitals to poor outcomes and incentives for good performance in programs like the Pioneer ACO.
However I am not sure there will be system wide improvement unless the data of patient is made available in its entirety to aid in process improvement and treatment determination. If is it not a process but a guessing game where we are trying to solve the puzzle with many of the letters missing. Also the only way solution get adopted system wide is if the methods we used to find better way are open to all to understand. This is why Open Data and Open Models are so important in Healthcare. Without Open Data we may not have the data needed to improve the results, and without Open Models we do not have proof that the new way is better.
I really enjoyed the Clinton Health Matters Conference and I look forward to going again next year. Hopefully when some of the things we need to improve Healthcare in America are more available.