A good friend recently reminded me of the film Minority Report, starring Tom Cruise, when he mentioned it during a presentation he was giving at the G2 Lab Revolution conference. The plot of this futuristic sci-fi thriller revolves around the ability to predict and prevent crime before it happens. This remarkable feat is accomplished by three special individuals with the power of precognition called, appropriately, “pre-cogs.” In today’s healthcare world, where we’re fighting and trying to prevent acute and chronic illness instead of crime, it’s done with technology and data – and is referred to as predictive analytics.
Predictive analytics refers to using data mining techniques and statistical analysis of current and historical events to predict future outcomes. It can be used in any industry, from insurance to telecommunications, but in the healthcare arena it allows us to examine large amounts of clinical data and understand the outcomes achieved by following certain paths of care. The inherent goal is to identify people earlier on the path (or, ideally, before they get on the path), and prevent the undesirable outcomes experienced by the people who have gone before them. In the simplest of terms, this is what population health is all about.
Although predictions can be made for a wide variety of clinical activities and outcomes, including length of stay in the hospital, readmission rates to the hospital, and a patient’s likely response (or lack thereof) to a certain medication, it’s important to remember that these predictions are made primarily at the individual level. However, altering clinical practice to improve the care of a single individual, if done similarly under the same circumstances for each patient, leads to benefits for entire populations.
Moving forward, the more we learn about the course of each disease, through incorporating the latest research, technology, and data analytics, the closer we come to completely preventing a host of disorders – and the closer we come to keeping people healthier. Add to this equation the significant increase in the availability of genomic data, and you have the recipe for identifying “at-risk” patients at the earliest possible moment. Engaging people to maintain their health, even by simple methods like wearable devices to keep them active, adds to the positive trending toward wellness and away from current state of reactive medical care, resulting in true healthcare – with the emphasis on health!
Another sector likely to benefit from predictive analytics and personalized healthcare is the pharmaceutical industry. Investment will likely continue in this new age of designer drugs, in this case designed in accordance with the individual’s own genome, to ensure that the right drug is used at exactly the right dose. The world of companion diagnostics relies on new tests that are designed to assist physicians in making treatment decisions for their patients based on their genomic makeup and the specific mechanisms of action of particular drugs. This process is amplified with large amounts of pharmacogenomics data and as it evolves it takes us closer to an era of truly personalized or precision medicine.
It is pretty clear that predictive analytics will lead to higher quality care. But the accumulation of data around the cost of care will also lead to employers having a better understanding of its employees’ overall healthcare needs, or, on an even larger scale, an insurer’s ability to provide the best products for the needs of those covered under its plans. Keep in mind that the ultimate goal of any Accountable Care Organization (ACO) is to reduce healthcare costs. Predictive analytics will be invaluable to this cause as more private insurers get into the game as well.
If all this data we are collecting, analyzing, and using to predict outcomes is going to have any impact at all on the population as a whole, one thing is certain – people need to take responsibility for their own health. In the absence of pre-cogs, intervening in the progression of disease at an early stage or even before it begins is still possible, but only if behaviors and lifestyles are changing. For this kind of approach to work, individuals and populations will need to focus on wellness and prevention … which is a futuristic concept indeed!