Find My Lost Sock in the Dryer for $10…Not

By  |  March 16, 2011 | 

OK, not the contest you want to participate in, but this caught my attention from today’s WSJ (gated):

Amid a larger effort to use medical data to improve health care, one company is trying something new: offering $3 million in prize money for the algorithm that can best predict when people are likely to be sent to the hospital.

The algorithm contest, the largest of its kind so far, is part of a trend toward using such prizes to help find the best answers to complicated data-analysis questions.

Data-mining competitions have been around for a while—most notably the $1 million Netflix Inc. prize awarded in 2009 for a model to better predict what movies people would like. But the $3 million health prize, sponsored by California physicians group Heritage Provider Network Inc., raises the stakes. And the start-up handling the competition, Kaggle Pty. Ltd., is aiming to build a business by conducting even more.

The Heritage competition, which begins April 4 and is set to last about two years, will provide contestants with “anonymized” insurance-claims data so they can develop a model to predict how many days a patient is likely to spend in the hospital over the next year.

The goal is to eventually use this model to “identify people who can benefit from additional services,” like visits from a nurse or preventive care, thus preventing hospitalization and saving costs, said Jonathan Gluck, a senior executive at Heritage, which has about 700,000 patients.

“We just wanted to spur innovation and different ways of thinking in health care,” he said. Heritage, which works with insurers but doesn’t provide insurance, says the data won’t be used to charge higher premiums.


This kind of contest is becoming more common, and why not?  Businesses leverage non-company talent in an efficient way for an “all in” solve-athon.  An excerise where everyone is a likely winner.

Next step: Design a tool that effectively prevents readmissions (I have got $3 in my wallet, lets start the contest pool??). I will blog on that shortly though, so stay tuned.

On the “extrapolate” to the readmissions front, something interesting from this weeks AIM btw. The lesson learned is interesting: top performers rendering AMI care have a secret sauce approach to treatment that has nothing to do with resource utilization or high tech toys. It is about organizational culture.

Thats the unobserved variable in this mix, and it is likely the same paradigms are at work on the readmit front: there are certain issues a tool or an additional nurse manager wont identify or fix…and I doubt there is a contest solution for that!

Maybe Warren Buffet needs an SHM reach out?

UPDATE: NYT‘s piece on AIM study referenced above

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About the Author: Brad Flansbaum

Brad Flansbaum
Bradley Flansbaum, DO, MPH, MHM works for Geisinger Health System in Danville, PA in both the divisions of hospital medicine and population health. He began working as a hospitalist in 1996, at the inception of the hospital medicine movement. He is a founding member of the Society of Hospital Medicine and served as a board member and officer. He speaks nationally in promoting hospital medicine and has presented at many statewide meetings and conferences. He is also actively involved in house staff education. Currently, he serves on the SHM Public Policy Committee and has an interest in payment policy, healthcare market competition, health disparities, cost-effectiveness analysis, and pain and palliative care. He is SHM’s delegate for the AMA House of Delegates. Dr. Flansbaum received his undergraduate degree from Union College in Schenectady, NY and attended medical school at the New York College of Osteopathic Medicine. He completed his residency and chief residency in Internal Medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York. He received his M.P.H. in Health Policy and Management at Columbia University. He is a political junky, and loves to cook, stay fit, read non-fiction, listen to many genres of music, and is a resident of Danville, PA.


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