Adam Gartenberg's Blog

Business Analytics and Optimization, IBM and Social Marketing

NY Times: Making Health Care Better


The New York Times Magazine this past weekend ran a lengthy and insightful article into how Intermountain Healthcare in Utah is applying information and analytics at their network of 23 hospitals and associated clinics with some very dramatic results in improving healthcare outcomes and reducing patient costs.  

Intermountain was one of first medical systems with electronic patient records (already in place by1986), and the article focuses on how Brent James, brought in as the director of medical research and continuing medical education at that time, has brought about significant change in how doctors are sharing and implementing best practice protocols based on actual outcomes.  From the article (emphasis mine):

James’s answer to such skepticism — and there is a lot of it, especially beyond Intermountain — is to show results. Intermountain has reduced the number of preterm deliveries, as well as the number of babies who must spend time in the neonatal-intensive-care unit. So-called adverse drug events, which include overdoses and allergic reactions, were cut in half in the mid-1990s. A protocol for dealing with one broad category of pneumonia cut its mortality rate by 40 percent over several years. The death rate for coronary-bypass surgery was cut to 1.5 percent, from the national average of about 3 percent. Medicare data on heart-failure and pneumonia patients show that Intermountain has significantly lower-than-average readmission rates. In all, James estimates that the changes have saved thousands of lives a year across Intermountain’s network. Outside experts consider that estimate to be fair.

Wennberg, the Dartmouth researcher, argues that Intermountain is fundamentally different from other oft-cited models of high-quality, lower-cost care, like the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic. These places, including Intermountain, share certain traits, like having a large number of doctors who receive fixed salaries rather than being paid piecemeal for each treatment. Partly as a result, these hospitals do fewer tests, treatments and operations than other hospitals and still get excellent results. What sets Intermountain apart, Wennberg says, is that it is also making a rigorous effort to analyze and improve bedside care.

Those of you that were able to join us at the IOD2009 conference heard Shirley Lady from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association talk about how IBM is helping them look across their 54 million members to find anomalies and opportunities to improve treatment practices (highlights here). Similarly, IBM has been working with organizations like Geisinger Healthcare on their Clinical Decision Intelligence System (CDIS) solution, which leverages the health system's wealth of clinical data derived from its decade-long use of electronic medical records for a comprehensive patient view and to serve as a basis for analytics to identify best practices and facilitate research.  (You can also find a reply of the Day 1 Opening General Session at the free IOD Virtual Experience.)

Given the focus on improving healthcare in the United States (and elsewhere) right now, I think we're going to see more examples like these come to the forefront.  I know for myself, I'd rather be in a hospital following such practices than one that doesn't.

Link:  NYTimes: Making Health Care Better