So, this sounds creepy: Some hospitals are identifying high-risk patients by buying loads of consumer data and plugging it into algorithms so they can step in before the customer gets sick. According to Bloomberg Businessweek, it’s currently being used by Carolinas HealthCare System, which is using that type of data to survey the health of its two million members. How does it work? Take, for example, an asthma patient. A hospital would decide how likely a person would arrive in the emergency room by tracking how often they have refilled their medication, if they’re caught buying cigarettes, and if they live in an area with a high pollen county. “The idea is to use Big Data and predictive models to think about population health and drill down to the individual levels,” said Michael Dulin, a chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research for the medical network, in the Bloomberg Businessweek report.
Imagine getting a call from your doctor if you let your gym membership lapse, make a habit of buying candy bars at the checkout counter, or begin shopping at plus-size clothing stores. For patients of Carolinas HealthCare System, which operates the largest group of medical centers in North and South Carolina, such a day could be sooner than they think. Carolinas HealthCare, which runs more than 900 care centers, including hospitals, nursing homes, doctors’ offices, and surgical centers, has begun plugging consumer data on 2 million people into algorithms designed to identify high-risk patients so that doctors can intervene before they get sick. The company purchases the data from brokers who cull public records, store loyalty program transactions, and credit card purchases. Information on consumer spending can provide a more complete picture than the glimpse doctors get during an office visit or through lab results, says Michael Dulin, chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare. The Charlotte-based hospital chain is placing its data into predictive models that give risk scores to patients. Within two years, Dulin plans to regularly distribute those scores to doctors and nurses who can then reach out to high-risk patients and suggest changes before they fall ill. “What we are looking to find are people before they end up in trouble,” says Dulin, who is a practicing physician.