PoliticsHealth Care


Big Data Doctors Are Focusing On How We Live To Catch Health Issues

Research shows investing in social services could lead to lower health care costs.
Posted at 6:11 PM, Aug 13, 2018

The United States spends more than $3 trillion a year on health care. That's the highest of any wealthy nation. That includes $672 billion a year in Medicare, $565 billion in Medicaid, almost $329 billion the pharmaceutical industry pulls in and over $1 trillion that goes to hospitals.

And many people think our current health care system isn't working. And oftentimes, the folks in charge can't agree on how to fix it. One idea being explored more than ever before is to focus on a group of factors called the social determinants of health. 

"So at the basic level, the social determinants of health are the structural aspects of your life that you bump into every day," Ryan Bosch told Newsy. 

Bosch is an internal medicine physician and one of the founders of an organization called Socially Determined. They are working to create a new science to help refine how we study the impact of things like housing, a social support network, the food you eat and your health literacy on health. 

It is a much broader look at what health care means, and proponents say if we fixed those things, the U.S. would end up spending less on health care and people like us would get better care.

Think of it like this: The U.S. is a ship, and upstream from the U.S.S. America are these social determinants of health. If we stay focused on and fix those things that don't feel like they have immediate effects, we can stop health issues before they even pop up. Bosch and his company hope to lead that change in the health care industry by using technology. 

"We aggregate data. We take that data, and we risk stratify that data. Then we create cohorts of members or patients, 2,000-3,000 folks, and we identify a strategy to improve the health and the outcomes of that patient set," Bosch said.

Essentially, they look at those social determinants and measure what kinds of things their clients are at risk for and what can be done to help mitigate that risk before something happens.

"So then we help create that cohort of 2,000-3,000 that would be managed with interventions to support their food scarcity, or to support their health literacy, to provide information in their first spoken language, to really help move them on a curve of better care," Bosch said. 

Socially Determined is just one example of a company using data in the hopes of changing our daily lives. But Bosch says they're careful to do more than just score their clients and give them a number.

"We felt the need to really manage and support that intervention, to really understand, with a scientific process, did it work or not, to have both humility and arrogance to give it a shot, but then create a very objective platform year over year to say, 'Did that intervention work? Was the patient and the population healthier? What was their total cost of care?'" Bosch said.