Digging deeper: Health data mining platforms surge ahead
Few areas of the corporate world are fraught with the conflicting objectives found in employee health. Company health plans are designed to maintain employee health. Healthy employees are more productive. And generous health coverage bolsters recruitment and retention, a key goal in the zero-employment economy.
But benefits are also a nagging cost center. And many employers are uncertain about the legality of analyzing the health data their plans create.
How to balance these often conflicting priorities?
Enter the latest potential solution: data mining platforms and consultants.
Data warehouses are nothing new. That’s where employers first turned when they needed a black hole in space to store the enormous bits of data generated every minute of the work day. But now, as the Big Data industry rushes ahead, driven by its own data, employers suddenly have myriad options for managing and mining those bits stashed away on the cloud. The question is: How do I get the answers I need from my data in a timely fashion with actionable recommendations? Oh, and without running afoul of privacy concerns?
That’s where vendors like Springbuk, Segal Group, Artemis Health and others come in. Their promise to employers: We’ll help you quickly find out what you’re looking for in your data. And we will also bring to your attention trends and issues you didn’t know existed that can generate a better return on your health plan investment.
Employers are signing on for these services despite concerns about just how deeply they can mine health data. A recent Accenture survey found that only 30 percent of respondents were “very confident that they are using new sources of workforce data in a highly responsible way.” But 62 percent said they were already “using new technologies and sources of workforce data today,” and three-quarters were eager to analyze their employee data to grow and transform their businesses, and to unlock their employees’ full potential.
And apart from legal protections around privacy, which remain uncertain, workers don’t seem to be fearful of the Big Data/Big Brother syndrome. More than 90 percent of employees responding to the survey said they were fine with collection of personal data, as long as it “improves their performance or well-being or provides other personal benefits.”
Connecting with employers
Platform builders are finding two routes to employers: Directly to them through their sales teams, and through broker channels. Says Springbuk’s Reasen, “We do believe in the value proposition of the broker model. They represent a strong advocacy at the local level that still exists. They like to be able to offer a tool like ours to get into data warehouses and analyze what’s there for their clients.”
Springbuk just unveiled an upgrade of its health intelligence platform that its executives say will both greatly reduce the time required to mine specific intelligence from health data, and provide clients with customized, curated data-based reports on topics ranging from risk mitigation, care efficiency and drug savings, to steerage procedures and potentially unnecessary procedures.
The upgrade further enhances the platform’s ability to identify members within a plan population “who are at risk of developing health conditions and then get actionable information including appropriate treatment, disease management resources and risk mitigation strategies. At-risk employees are identified based on a proprietary algorithm using a database of existing claims,” the company says.
In other words, the platform both responds rapidly to employer queries about employee health, and anticipates, explores, and issues reports on trends that clients may not be aware of.
“The message around health intelligence, as opposed to health data, is resonating with employers,” says Springbuk’s Rod Reasen, CEO and co-founder. “I just got off a call with a very large organization that represents hundreds of thousands of lives. They want to know why they bought a data warehouse. ‘We thought we’d have access to a lot o f information. but actually it’s just access to a lot of data.’ Our health intelligence platform goes beyond a data warehouse to provide actually actionable intelligence.”
“It’s a question of data mining versus data reporting,” says Segal’s David Searles, vice president and the executive who developed Segal’s data analytics business. “Data mining creates new information from the data. The mining can say, for example, that you have 20 percent of your diabetics who aren’t getting their tests done. It is creating new actionable information from the data you are presented with.”
These new platforms can swiftly adapt to shifting priorities among employees. As opioid abuse continues to take a toll on employee health and the cost of insurance, Segal was asked to examine one client’s population to identify total savings potential for opioid abuse prevention management.
“The client wanted us to quantify enhanced opioid criteria savings to medical and prescription drug programs,” he says. “We analyzed the data and discovered that, by limiting first fills of opioid prescriptions to a 7-day supply, ER-related opioid visits decreased 35.3 percent.”
Demand is strong to mine employee data to evaluate workplace wellness programs. Generally, employers want to reduce their wellness offerings to those programs that engage employees and produce better health outcomes.
“We get a lot of requests to examine the data for return on investments in various programs, both wellness or disease management. While you can’t really do an ROI accurately–no one agrees on a consistent methodology for it–you can determine the effectiveness of the program by looking at the change in biometric data of the participants,” Searles says.
“What we are pushing toward is this: Plan sponsors should use data to actively manage their health plans. They should evaluate their employee profiles. Let’s target a program that addresses conditions that are driving trends.”
One example would be designing a treatment plan for diabetics with coronary disease. “They should be highly motivated and will incur large claims if they don’t improve their condition,” he says.
But first, the company needs to know whether its workforce includes enough diabetics with coronary disease to justify creating such a program. And that’s where the emerging data mining platforms shine.
The new mining platforms have immeasurably reduce the time required for an employer to find the desired information. Springbuk’s Reasen says the chief medical officer for one client told him “it would have taken him a month to come up with the exact [report] we came up with in seconds.”
He adds: “When a user steps in front of a data warehouse, we are asking them to spend time and use their knowledge to extract information. We all have the same amount of time. How do we use it?”
Strategic benefits firm Sequoia Consulting Group is a Springbuk broker client. CEO Greg Golub says his clients especially value the executive reports the platform produces.
“Springbuk is very effective at producing executive reports, tailored for the CFO or HR leader. They do a good job of synthesizing the information into an actionable report. They are focusing on the right stuff.”
Sequoia’s chief marketing officer, Michele Floriani, says being able to offer Springbuk reports to clients has led to positive feedback. “We offer it as a service to our self-insured clients and together we make use of the output and insights to make annual and longer term strategy decisions on plan design. It’s really wonderful. That’s the value to us. It focuses on what matters to the client.”