Big data is big in health care. With #data from police and social services, #hospitals could help patients who constantly show up at the #ER.

It’s probably PI to call them this, but they are known as frequent flyers. An editorial in The Boston Globe this morning lauds a new program — which calls them “Frequent Utilizers ” —  aimed at helping hospital  staff help patients who show up at the ED again and again.

boston_globeResearchers, police officers, and doctors have long understood the challenge of so-called frequent utilizers — mentally ill or addicted people who cycle in and out of emergency rooms and jailhouses at enormous cost, with little sign of improvement...

There are records here and records there. But you’d have to look at them in combination — two ambulance calls for overdoses, a police call for an attempted suicide in one town and a second call, in a neighboring town, when she was the victim of an assault — to get the full picture.

That’s the idea behind a promising new pilot program bringing together law enforcement, corrections officials, and health care providers in three jurisdictions: Long Beach, Calif., Johnson County, Iowa, and Middlesex County, a sprawling region that includes urban centers like Cambridge and Lowell and smaller towns like Concord and Groton.


2/26 : Big chickens, big data and more. #Health and #medicined #events in #Boston this week

Pick of the week. 

Tuesday  at 7: “Big Chicken.”   Maryn McKenna.   Harvard Book Store, 1256 Massachusetts Ave.  Details. Mckenna is a clear, lively writer who owns this topic.

Still time to get there

Monday 2/26 11am“The Road to the Future is Paved with Data.”   John Quackenbush.   Tufts:  Ballou Hall, Coolidge Room.   Details.

Genomics has transformed biological science not by producing genome sequences and gene catalogs for a range of species, but rather through the development of technologies that allow us to survey, on a global scale, organisms and their gene, protein, and metabolic patterns of expression

Tuesday 2/27

6pm.  “Convergence in Biomedicine.”   Phillip Sharp.   MIT:  E51-335.   Details, Abstract.

Convergence arises when multi-disciplinary teams are supported, collaborations rewarded, and environments made available for training.

Wednesday 2/28

7p.  “Biosafety in a World without Walls.”   Todd Kuiken.   BosLab:  339R Summer St, Somerville.   Details, Abstract.

Join us for a presentation and discussion with special guest Dr. Todd Kuiken on a look back at the DIYbio community and envisioning the future of this group.

Friday  3/2

9-5p.  “Translational Neuroscience: Bridging the Gap.”   A conference.   The Broad Institute, 415 Main Street, Cambridge.   Details, Abstract, Registration.

Building on the strengths of the local Boston community in academic research, pharma, biotech, and clinical medicine, the aim of this LabLinks is to bring together researchers from across the translational neuroscience community to discuss the current state of the field.

Thanks to Some events have limited access or fees.

Coming up next week

March 5-6.  “VR and Healthcare.”   A symposium.   HMS:  Martin Conference Center.  Details. Abstract, Registration. $999 registration fee with one day and student discounts.  

*Thanks to Some events have limited access or fees.

Data, medicine, insurance reform and a round up of health policy blogs

1950s era analog computer
1950s-era analog computer

Health data is a theme of this edition of the Health Wonk Review because it is also the focus of the current Knight News Challenge. That contest rewards media innovation with seed money. They use the word “challenge” literally, asking for innovative responses to question: How can we harness data and information for the health of communities?

Our definitions of “health data” and “news” are broad, and range from projects in traditional newsrooms to consumer-facing technology to crunching big datasets. We’re hoping to find and accelerate projects that use data and public information in innovative ways to create strong information flows about health in our communities.

Check it out. Health care produces big, big data. Health information technology, surveillance data, electronic medical records, clinical trials, NIH databases.  Payers and providers produce endless streams of data for millions of people.  On the other end of the scale, the quantified selfers keep blood pressure, diet and exercise logs.

US-MapWhat would happen if you had to turn those logs over to your insurer? David E. Williams of the Health Business Blog notes that car insurer Progressive gathers lots of info on drivers through its Snapshot device. Then, the company lowers premiums in return for lower risk behavior. He asks “What will it look like when the same approach is applied to health insurance?” Risk assessment also serves as the basis for public policies and day-to-day individual behaviors. At Workers’ Comp Insider, Julie Ferguson looks at real versus perceived risks in her post about how “Your Daily Shower Can Kill You.”

Former VA research chief Joel Kupersmith writes on the Health Affairs blog about data, privacy and genomic research.  He considers the  challenge of balancing the benefits of widely shared genomic data with privacy concerns, in particular the re-identification of individuals.

The Healthcare Economist reports data about long-term care trends and investigates the systems in Austria, England, France, Germany and the Netherlands. For many disabled elderly individuals, a nursing home is their only option.  How do European countries take care of the long-term disabled?

CDC data suggest 200,000 Americans are needlessly dying every year from preventable heart disease, but over the last decade, that number – on an unadjusted basis – has decreased by about 12%, or that there are 28,000 fewer deaths, notes Jaan Sidorov of the Disease Management Care Blog: That being said, while the greatest jumps in saved lives are among persons of color, they still are the most vulnerable to avoidable cardiovascular conditions.  If we are really going to use this information, that insight is what tells us where the resources are really needed

                  Black men are at highest risk of dying early from heart disease and stroke
Black men are at highest risk of dying early from heart disease and stroke

Moving out of the data world, Health Care Renewal asks:  What Sorts of People are “Most Influential in Healthcare?” The post notes that Modern Healthcare answers this question with with a list of managers from hospital systems and  health care corporations — and very few doctors. The list did include the CEOs of Sutter Health and Advocate Health, two companies known for significant mismanagement of health care technology, HCR notes.

Some of the most influential  run corporations that have been cited time and again for ethical/ legal problems, and some of the corporations have paid hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements and sometimes pleaded guilty to criminal charges.  The list included not a single doctor in private practice, very few people with backgrounds in medical or health care academics, and a tiny number who have suggested reforms of the sort we discuss on Health Care Renewal. 


On to the ACA

Anthony Wright of the Health Access Blog notes that the first ads from California’s  insurance  exchange  provide some basic information to Californians, but also “introduce some signposts and open some doors.” Health Insurance Resource Center Blog offers Maggie Mahar, who says that some pundits are claiming that young Americans will have little interest in purchasing health insurance through the ACA’s exchanges. In reality, the subsidies available to about nine million of those young people should actually make the exchanges’ comprehensive coverage attractive to them.

Joe Paduda’s post  discusses the origins of the “idea” of the mandate while positing that repealing the law “won’t do anything to solve the underlying issues inherent in today’s health insurance system.” A post on health and higher education comes in from John Goodman’and the Health Policy Blog. In it, he compares the way the two are funded.

InsureBlog’s Bob Vineyard enthusiastically reports on a new health insurance start-up that leans heavily on transparency and features free telemedicine and generic drugs. Find out why he gets to post a picture of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

Colorado Health Insurance Insider says that the idea of the ACA “ was to make sure that large employers offered good qualify coverage in order to avoid paying a fine, it appears that some large employers will opt for the fine instead.”


Dats graphic by Michael Schieben

A primer on using data to stay healthy and get well

medicare compare ss


How do you choose a new doctor or a nursing home? Get information on toxins in your neighborhood.? Search an index of reliable, up-to-date medical findings? Ask friends, do a web search or brave an impenetrable government database?  The HealthDecider data links to the left are designed to help.

Most are national, but some are local to Boston. Most are easy to use. However, the Medicare fee database is not consumer-friendly. More on that below.

A few general tips on how to use them:

  •  Always cross reference. Different  sources may rank the same hospital differently
  • Pay attention to sources of information.
  • Look for most recent data.
  • Learn a little about spread sheets to keep track of your research and to    crunch your own numbers.
  • Comment here on the usefulness of this data.
  • Talk to your doctor about “shared decision making.


The Medicare fee database is rather complex. One way to make sense of it is to simply search on the hospital or provider name. It will then give you a list of procedures you can click on.  We include it here because it contains valuable information. Do know that this is not a consumer database. You  need to know a bit about payer jargon and databases to make sense of it.