Data mining is an extremely powerful technology, one which more and more organizations are utilizing for a wide range of purposes. With these solutions, firms can discover insights that would otherwise remain unavailable, and they can use this information to make more strategic decisions.
One noteworthy recent example of this trend can be found in the health care sector. As Bloomberg Businessweek reported, the Carolinas HealthCare hospital chain now leverages data mining solutions to examine patients' credit card information in an effort to predict future illnesses.
The news source noted that Carolinas HealthCare operates more than 900 hospitals, doctors' offices, surgical centers and other care centers, and provides services for approximately 2 million patients. In an effort to provide proactive, preventative treatment to these individuals, the organization purchases data from brokers that collect consumer information from public records and other sources. Carolinas HealthCare then uses data mining algorithms to identify the most at-risk patients before they require medical intervention.
Michael Dulin, a practicing physician and chief clinical officer for analytics and outcomes research at Carolinas HealthCare, noted that data mining consumer spending information can yield a much more comprehensive understanding of an individual than a brief visit to the doctor, the news source reported. Within two years, Dulin hopes to regularly assign risk scores to patients and then distribute this information to doctors and nurses, who in turn can reach out to the in-danger individuals and recommend changes before more serious treatment is necessary. Typically, these take the form of phone calls directly to patients.
The news source reported that efforts such as this one generate a significant amount of controversy. Most notably, observers worry about the possibility of health care providers crossing privacy boundaries.
"It is one thing to have a number I can call if I have a problem or question; it is another thing to get unsolicited phone calls. I don't like that. I think it's intrusive," said Jorjanne Murry, the news source noted.
According to Dulin, though, such concerns are misplaced.
"The data is already used to market to people to get them to do things that might not always be in the best interest of the consumer," he said, Bloomberg Businessweek reported. "We are looking to apply this for something good."
The good in question can go a long way. Recently, Google co-founder Larry Page spoke to The New York Times about the possible benefits to be gained by pursuing data mining the health care sector. Specifically, Page suggested that many lives could be saved through such efforts.
"Right now we don't data mine health care data. If we did we'd probably save 100,000 lives next year," Page said, according to the source.
Page also addressed the privacy issue, explaining that many people initially voiced such concerns over Google Street View, but such worries quickly evaporated as the service's value became more apparent and the risks of privacy violations seemed less prominent.
And while improved patient outcomes is an obvious incentive for health care providers to pursue data mining solutions, there is also a financial motivation. Bloomberg Businessweek noted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act links hospital pay to quality metrics. Notably, hospitals now receive fines if they readmit too many patients within a month.
By leveraging data mining tools, health care organizations can better allocate their resources and more effectively identify health issues early, before the patient requires readmission.