Is the use of “big data” an Rx for improving healthcare?

The UNC Health Care system is about to find out. 

In an effort to cut costs, reduce the number of re-admissions and improve quality of life for patients, UNC Health Care says it is going to utilize so-called content analytics from IBM.

The program is called IBM “Smarter Care,” and is similar to programs such as Big Blue’s Smarter Cities, Smarter Commerce and Smarter Planet initiatives in which analytics software assembles andn makes sense of “big data” gathered from a variety of disparate sources.

“With the ability to see and interpret both structured and unstructured data, UNCHC can now identify high-risk patients, understand in context what is causing them to be hospitalized, and then take preventative action,” IBM says.

IBM Smarter Care utilizes advanced analytics and cognitive computing that “can uncover valuable patterns related to life choices, social determinants and clinical factors. This knowledge is used to take a more holistic approach to individuals’ care, and can lead to an evolution in care delivery with the potential for more effective outcomes and lower costs. If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, an ounce of perspective extracted from a ton of data is priceless in potential savings.”

UNC Health Care has already used Big Blue analytics in other areas, including the clinical data to improve the accuracy of 2012 Physician Quality Reporting System measures. UNC says it achieved “double digit quality improvements in the areas of mammogram, cancer and pneumonia screening.”

“IBM Content Analytics allows us to quickly transform raw information into healthcare insights,” said Dr. Carlton Moore, an associate professor of Medicine at UNCHC. “It can reveal trends, patterns and deviations while predicting the probability of outcomes so that we can make decisions in minutes versus weeks or months.”

The new initiative focuses on three areas, UNCHC and IBM said in the announcement:

  • Timely Follow-up of Abnormal Cancer Screening Results: Follow-up care for patients with abnormal tests is often delayed because the results are buried in electronic medical records. Using IBM Content Analytics, UNCHC can extract abnormal results from cancer screening reports such as mammograms and colonoscopies and store the results as structured data. The structured results are used to generate alerts immediately for physicians to proactively follow-up with patients that have abnormal cancer screening results.
  • Reducing Costly 30-Day Readmissions: Preventable readmissions impact one in five U.S. patients, which adds unnecessary costs to the already strained health system1. As of last year, hospitals are also penalized for high readmission rates, with reductions in Medicare discharge payments. UNCHC is using the IBM solution to extract predictors of readmission risk from free-text clinical notes to find more effective ways to care for high-risk patients and provide safer patient care.
  • Engaging More Patients: Getting patients involved in health care management is key to improving health outcomes, but clinical data in today’s patient portals is often unfiltered and hard for patients to understand. UNCHC is using IBM Content Analytics to transform clinical data from electronic medical records into a simpler format so that patients can better understand their health information and participate in their care management plan.

[IBM ARCHIVE: Check out more than a decade of IBM stories as reported in WRALTechWire.]