What if Amazon ran Population Health Management?

One reason I chose this title is because Amazon may be able to do it better than healthcare providers could do this, and they could probably do it in the blink of an eye.  Let us begin with this.

For two years we’ve all been besieged by the goings and comings of our fellow citizen, nay possible traitor in the eyes of many, Edward Snowden—no middle name available or required.  That in turn has led us to supposedly “learn” more about his former employer, the NSA—The Puzzle Palace. (My father’s former employer.)

Even so, I do not have a dog in this hunt.  Evidently, the NSA has been collecting data; a lot of data.  As a result of the uncovering of Mr. Snowden’s activities or proclivities, several journalists have won awards for their reporting of this story.

The Cliff Notes of the headline of the Snowden story could be stated as: Employee of organization publishes information about people the organization was tracking—clearly this is a bit of an oversimplification since the information that was published could involve national secrets.

Employee of organization publishes information about people the organization was tracking.

Now, if the organization in question was Amazon, Kayak, YouTube, or any other such firm, how would the dialog change?

To allow you to get back to what you are doing, let’s keep this simple.  Amazon.  You shop. I shop. We, she, or it shops.  And when we shop, what does Amazon do?  It recommends, based on the information it has collected about me, what movies I may want to watch—Mel Brooks, what books I may want to read—Lee Childs, and what items I may wish to purchase.

When an organization such as Amazon does this, we do not even blink. We do not shout “treason”. We may even think, “Aren’t they being helpful.”  We certainly do not think that Amazon just committed treason.  We do not jump to the conclusion that Amazon just violated our constitutional rights.

Catch your breath.  Big, awkward segue.

Hospitals.  Hospitals are the anti-Amazon, the ant-NSA.

How so?

Hospitals track everything.  If you went to any kind of healthcare conference and swung a dead cat over your head—not that I recommend you do that—you would hit several vendors selling you healthcare analytics, data warehousing, or business intelligence.

And why do they do that?  How do they use that to their benefit?  They do it to learn what else they should track.  Data collection.  Lots of data. Everything they know about the person whose data they track.

Here we go.

What is the monumental difference between the data accumulated by Amazon or Netflix and the data collected by hospitals?

The difference is that Amazon uses the data to initiate a two-way communication.  Based on this, we recommend that.

Healthcare applications—apps—do the same thing. “If you ate this, you are over the number of calories you should eat today.”  “You walked this many steps today, and you need to walk six-thousand more to maintain your planned fitness level.”  “You did not record having taken your medication today.”

These apps, apps used faithfully by millions of people every day, for the most part could have been written by two people working out of a closet in their basement.  Their users have no knowledge of the background of the people who developed the apps. 

Nonetheless, people use the apps.  They input their data, they get feedback, and based on that they do one thing or the other about their behavior.

So it seems that what is missing is that hospitals have reams of data on patients, discharged patients and former patients, and for the most part the only thing they do with it is use it internally.

So, here is my point.  What could be gained if hospitals did an Amazon, did a Netflix? Would hospitals reduce readmissions and improve population health if instead of simply collecting data they used the data they collected and made recommendations, or communicated wellness options to the people whose data they had collected?  Could they manage better the health of their population?

I think they could. What do you think?

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