Will Health Data Take a Page From Google?

AnalyticsGoogle loves data.

Perhaps at our expense.

Ignoring the creepy factor of some of the customized ads that follow us around the web, I think you would agree Google is strategic about the data they collect.

Health care has its own share of a data dynasty.

The difference is – health care doesn’t know what to do with it. At least it appears that way.

Will health reform’s Affordable Care Act (ACA) help change that?

Health Data Linking

Imagine the happy dance Google would do if they were in the health data game. I like to tell my naive self, they aren’t already.

Picture the sources of health data within Google’s reach.

  • Insurance data including enrollment, claims, disease or medical case management, prescriptions, and physicians
  • Provider-produced data regarding facility or practice management, treatment patterns, patient base, contracting, and billing
  • Clinical data from medical records including lab results and treatment outcomes
  • Health management programs including health risk appraisals and biometric (health) screenings

The above is probably a small sampling. That fact gives privacy advocates a coronary.

Privacy advocates shudder at the thought of our personal health data served up like an all-you-can-eat buffet. And there is justification for that fear.

Much of our health data is fragmented and not very organized or managed. Maybe that’s part of the privacy breach problem.

Population health management strives to put all that data to good use.

What is Population Health Management?

Think of population health management as the Google Analytics of health care.

Just as you can customize your Google Analytics, health analysts define the population and metrics for analysis.

An article from actuarial and consulting giant, Milliman’s Insight, provides excellent examples.

Population Examples

  • Disease-specific population such as cancer or diabetes
  • Geographic like a specific city, community or hospital population
  • Health demographic like women’s health or pediatric

Metrics Examples

  • Health screening results
  • Utilization patterns (hospital visits, office visits, etc.)
  • Health care costs

The author of the article believes the ACA created incentives encouraging the adoption of population health management.

Employer sponsors of health benefits are beginning to look at the concept from the perspective of their employees.

How does this help health care?

Health Management

I would love to claim ownership of the following approach, but that would be a lie.

Health care visionaries manage health instead of managing disease.

Our health insurance system primarily manages disease. You go to your doctor when you are sick and your insurance pays the claim.

Managing health is the concept behind health and productivity programs.

  • Preventive screenings offer early detection of diseases
  • Programs consider total health (emotional and social, as well as physical health)

Analysis needs data. And it needs the complete picture.

Let’s look again at Google Analytics.

  • You’re interested in how your business blog is performing
  • You receive a million pageviews
  • Sounds great, right?

Doesn’t sound great if nobody buys your products or services. While Google Analytics offers good data, it is not the complete picture.

How does that relate to health care? Let’s look at a simple example.

  • You are an employer who sponsors health benefits
  • Your employees have no health claims at all (stick with me here)
  • You don’t know what all the fuss is about regarding health costs

What if you knew half of all your employees have undiagnosed conditions – like diabetes, high blood pressure?

Some are a ticking time bomb.

  • You don’t need to know which employees they are
  • If you had the data (from a health screening or other data report)
  • You could build incentives for employees to receive early treatment

Early treatment has the potential for preventing more serious problems, like a heart attack or a stroke.

But, you need the complete health data picture.

Linking health data for the complete picture is the fuel for population health management.

  • Data begins with the individual
  • And forms the population for analysis
  • Management takes it back to the individual

Kind of like Google. Is health care ready for it?

BigStock Photo Credit


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Notice of Disclaimer –Cathy Miller is not an attorney or health care provider and cannot provide legal or health care advice. The information provided is for your general background only, and is not intended to constitute legal or health care advice as to your specific circumstances. We recommend you review legislation with legal counsel and visit your physician for health care issues.





  1. says

    These data can be very useful to improve outcomes. When talking about health information and privacy there is meta data and personal health information.

    Meta data is summary information that is not attached to any particular individual. There is no way to link the health data to any person. The data is great for analysis as you suggest, and can be mined for important insights without invading privacy. Without the identifying data aggregation is much simpler.

    Personal health information is always attached to an individual and is held to a higher standard. Data can’t be shared without the individuals explicit permission. Plus, the data is in so many silos that aggregating the information remains a pipe-dream.

    People fear what they don’t understand and can’t control. Use of meta level health information has more upside than concern for me.
    Kevin H @ Growing Family Benefits´s last blog post ..Life Insurance Policy Types Pros and ConsMy Profile

    • Cathy Miller says

      Hi Kevin. I agree aggregated health information helps remove some of the fear of privacy issues, but I understand the concern as it’s always the news of a lost laptop or misplaced data that hits the headlines.

      I have experienced the success of programs that use nothing but aggregated (or meta level as you refer to it) data so I know it works.

      I appreciate you sharing your experience, Kevin.

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