Big Data Saves Hospitals Time, Money

As we evaluate our work processes, we often look for ways we can cut out down time or eliminate wasted operations that drive up costs and complicate the matters at hand. That’s why when you talk about Big Data and its benefits, it’s often easy to put efficiency high on the list.

This is true across a number of industries. While the sales and tech industries generate press clippings, healthcare often gets overlooked. Now, thanks to the creation of a mandatory statewide database in Washington, the conversation may expand to include it more often in the future.

The data that’s been collected in Washington has allowed hospitals and doctors to cut ER visits by ten percent and even improved follow up patient care. Think about it. If you visit an emergency room because of tightness in the chest, you have no idea what’s going on. Neither do doctors who are seeing you for the first time. They have to take time to diagnose you and often times that involves ruling out all other possible scenarios. Once they do diagnose you, say with asthma, they’ll often request you follow up with your family doctor.

Unfortunately, many patients don’t consider that option. According to Mark Reiter, president of the American Academy of Emergency Medicine, nearly all ERs “have a few patients who have the potential to abuse the system.” He then went on to recall one patient he’d had that visited the ER more than 300 times in a single year.

Why does this happen?

There are a number of people who show up at the ER repeatedly with minor ailments like stomach problems and headaches. Many of the patients like this in Washington are low-income and covered by the state medicaid programs. This means that it’s the burden of the taxpayer to pick up the bill. Patients who went to the ER more than four times a year made up a fifth of all ER visits paid for by Medicaid in the state.

While a hospital may be able to recognize a face if it comes through the door repeatedly, they’ve never been able to track visits to competitive hospitals. Now, thanks to the database that the state has developed, that information is shared and available to local health providers. Facilities are able to direct many of these patients to clinics or other less expensive care centers based on the data. The chief medical officer for the state’s Medicaid program, Dan Lessler, credits the database for a substantial amount of the $33.7 million reduction in their medicaid costs following its launch.

According to Bloomberg Business, different hospitals and care professionals have used the database in different ways. Below is an excerpt the describes a few of them as well as some of the ongoing results.

Once a patient leaves an ER, the database helps doctors track their care. One hospital dispatches paramedics to check on high-risk patients within two days of their visit. Others hire care coordinators to ensure patients make appointments with a family doctor or specialist. Rural hospitals found that many of their ER patients needed help with pain, so they set up the region’s first pain management clinic. The data has helped reduce the prescription of narcotics in the state’s ERs by 24 percent in the first year. And 424 primary care physicians have signed up to receive automatic notifications when one of their patients goes to the ER. Washington is working to sign up more family doctors as well as community and mental health clinics.

The American College of Emergency Physicians see it as a model program for other networks to adopt across the nation. Queries have been made by several states already, California, Florida and Texas to name a few, in order to set up similar problems. As medicaid programs continue to be the a point of major debate in this year’s election cycle, it’ll be safe to assume that other state will be watching Washington closely to see just how successful, and logistically achievable, such a program can be over the long term.