A pair of Indiana University researchers has found that a pair of predictive modeling techniques can make significantly better decisions about patients’ treatments than can doctors acting alone. How much better? They claim a better than 50 percent reduction in costs and more than 40 percent better patient outcomes.
The idea behind the research, carried out by Casey Bennett and Kris Hauser, is simple and gets to the core of why so many people care so much about data in the first place: If doctors can consider what’s actually happening and likely to happen instead of relying on intuition, they should be able to make better decisions.
In order to prove out their hypothesis, the researchers worked with “clinical data, demographics and other information on over 6,700 patients who had major clinical depression diagnoses, of which about 65 to 70 percent had co-occurring chronic physical disorders like diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.” They built a model using Markov decision processes — which predict the probabilities of future events based on those immediately preceding them — and dynamic decision networks — which extend the Markov processes by considering the specific features of those events in order to determine the probabilities. Essentially, their model considers the specifics of a patient’s current state and then determines the best action to effect the best possible outcome.
Specifically, Bennett and Hauser found via a simulation of 500 random cases that their model decreased the cost per unit of outcome change to $189 from the $497 without it, an improvement of 58.5 percent. They found their original model improved patient outcomes by nearly 35 percent, but that tweaking a few parameters could bring that number to 41.9 percent.
It’s not surprising that anyone would think computers and data analysis could be a boon for the health care system:
- IBM has been banging this drum loudly, most recently with two new commercial versions of its Watson system — one of which is designed to determine the best-possible course of treatment for lung cancer patient by analyzing their situations against a library of millions of pages of clinical evidence and medical research.
- In July, I highlighted 10 ways that health care providers and startups are using big data to improve effectiveness and decrease treatment costs.
- More recently, I explained how access to more — and better — data is critical to everything from rating doctors to, possibly, curing cancer.
Furthermore, at Structure: Data on March 20, I’ll be discussing the marriage of big data and health care with Aetna innovation head Michael Palmer.
However, no one (or very few people, at least) suggests that Watson or any computer model can or should replace physicians’ judgment. What they can do, though, is digest quantities of research and case studies that no single human being could, meaning they can take a lot more information into account when computing possible outcomes and treatments.
So, although we won’t hear “Paging Dr. Watson” at the hospital anytime soon, there’s an increasingly high chance our doctors will retire to their offices with our charts and ask a computer system of some sort what might be wrong with us and how they might best fix it.
Feature image courtesy of Shutterstock user Luis Louro.