Big Data Helping to Reinvent Healthcare

Posted by Laura Swartz

October 14, 2015 at 2:55 PM

One of the most recent revolutions in healthcare is the role of Big Data. An article published on CNBC this morning noted how much data is being collected related to patient care today, from doctors digitizing patient records to the patients themselves who monitor “their activity, sleep and calorie burn using fitness trackers.” Pharma companies have been building medical databases comprising years of R&D data, augmented by clinical trial and insurance program data from government and other public sources (Source: McKinsey & Company). Patient-specific data is today available from multiple sources, including insurance payors, hospitals, laboratories, physicians’ offices, remote monitoring systems, and uploaded by patients directly through health and wellness apps and connected devices. Bernard Marr, a Forbes contributor, writes

The last decade has seen huge advances in the amount of data we routinely generate and collect in pretty much everything we do, as well as our ability to use technology to analyze and understand it.

The Big Data revolution has already led to major advancements in retail and banking, and the focus is increasingly shifting to answer questions of how to leverage analytics for the prediction and prevention of illness and death. PricewaterhouseCoopers puts it this way: "Today the health sector faces a daunting new digital challenge: unleashing the power of technology to fundamentally reinvent how care is delivered." Healthcare expenses have come under fire over the past few years, contributing to a change in reimbursement and compensation away from treatment volume (“fee-for-service”) to improved patient outcomes instead. Predictive and evidence-based medicine approaches using complex algorithms to anticipate epidemics, determine the most effective treatments for individual patients, cure disease, improve quality of life, and so on, may be key to improving the efficiency, costs, and quality of patient care going forward.

The drive now is to understand as much about a patient as possible, as early in their life as possible – hopefully picking up warning signs of serious illness at an early enough stage that treatment is far more simple (and less expensive) than if it had not been spotted until later.   – Bernard Marr

In the three years from 2010 to 2013, roughly 40% of new healthcare applications were aimed at direct health interventions or predictive capabilities, according to McKinsey & Company. CNBC has called such healthcare technologies a “fundamental business imperative” in the new health economy, noting that the medical technology industry is forecasted for growth of over 4% annually in the next five years for a value of $477.5 billion by 2020.

In the midst of this transition, a number of companies under our coverage are working on the roll-out of Big Data-based approaches to improving healthcare. One such firm is Catasys, Inc. (CATS-OTC), which has developed proprietary Big Data-based analytics and predictive modeling and is using its algorithms to improve the costs and quality of behavioral healthcare in the U.S. today. Catasys has shown to be able to apply its technology to the insurance claims data of health plans, predicting which patients are likely to have an underlying, undiagnosed behavioral health disorder, be it substance abuse, anxiety, or depression. Untreated, these conditions can exacerbate coexisting medical conditions, resulting in higher hospital admissions and emergency room (ER) visits.

Catasys’ OnTrak™ integrated solutions aim to improve member health while simultaneously lowering insurer costs for underserved populations with behavioral health disorders. The Company’s analytics identify which individuals on an insurance plan are “high utilizers” with impactable costs due to having a substance dependency or an anxiety disorder. Catasys targets these patients with its proprietary direct outreach capability to enroll them in the OnTrak™ patient-centric treatment program. OnTrak™ integrates evidence-based medical and psychosocial interventions in a 52-week outpatient program that has shown a 50%+ reduction in total costs for health insurers’ enrolled members—stemming from decreases in hospital days, ambulance usage, and ER visits. The Company has entered into contracts with several insurance providers for OnTrak™, which is available in 10 states to date, including through Aetna/Coventry, Humana, Centene, Fallon Health, Health Alliance Medical Plans, and Reliant Medical Group.

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