Data Analytics In Health Care (And Baseball)

“Bringing Moneyball to Medicine,” by Andy Bindman of the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) on the California Health Care Foundation’s blog, February 15. Bindman, who is now a professor of medicine, health policy, epidemiology, and biostatistics at UCSF, directed the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) from May 2016 until the conclusion of the Obama administration. In this post (and when he was at AHRQ), Bindman uses the example of the movie Moneyball (which is about baseball) to make his point about how data analytics help. He says, “It was my way of pointing out how major league sports have integrated data analytics into their workflow to improve team performance,” and he adds that there’s “a parallel opportunity for us in health care.” In medicine, Bindman says, “We need to base our decisionmaking less on limited direct experience and more on data analytics that can be applied to our routine clinical workflow.” The blogger’s comparison is apt now that Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is upon us!

Environmental Health

“HEFN’s [Health and Environmental Funders Network] 2016 Year in Review,” by Kathy Sessions, HEFN’s director, on its Giving InSight blog, January 9. Sessions first mentions the organization’s new mission: “mobilizing philanthropy to accelerate solutions for environmental health and justice.” Other highlights of the year include seeing enactment of the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act; HEFN’s emerging focus on drinking water, catalyzed by the crisis in Flint, Michigan, and related media coverage; HEFN’s project on health and equity issues related to climate change; the peer-reviewed Health Affairs article written by Sessions and coauthors titled “Foundations Invest in Environmental Health”; and more.

Health Reform

“Keeping Perspective during Turbulent Times,” by David Blumenthal, president of the Commonwealth Fund, on its To the Point blog, February 7. Blumenthal begins his post by saying, “At times of dramatic change in a nation’s history, fear and anxiety can become pervasive and overwhelming.” He does not specify what dramatic change he is referring to, but one can read between the lines. He then points out that a variety of events in US history, such as World War II, have “challenged the viability of our democracy,” but somehow the country was resilient and survived. The role of preserving American values and institutions, though, falls to nongovernmental organizations, including churches, mosques, synagogues, charities, and philanthropy, Blumenthal says.


“Kansans Deserve Better from KanCare,” by Sheldon Weisgrau, director of the Health Reform Resource Project, on the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City’s Local Health Buzz Blog, February 20. Weisgrau explains that federal audits, conducted by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, have brought to light—for the general public, state legislators, and the media—the problems with KanCare (Kansas Medicaid), although others “have been sounding the alarm for years.” Weisgrau says KanCare “is beset by administrative and operational problems that threaten the health and safety of its beneficiaries, [who are] among the most vulnerable” in the Sunflower State. There is even an ongoing failure to enroll people in a timely manner. Although “the state has submitted plans of correction to the federal government,” Weisgrau suggests what more is needed.

The Topeka-based Health Reform Resource Project “is an initiative to provide education and technical assistance on health reform and policy in Kansas,” according to its Twitter feed. The project is funded by Kansas Grantmakers In Health, comprised of the Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, Sunflower Foundation, REACH Healthcare Foundation, Kansas Health Foundation, United Methodist Health Ministry Fund, and Wyandotte Health Foundation.

Interestingly, the Kansas House recently approved Medicaid expansion for the state, according to the February 23 Wichita Eagle. The bill goes on to a state Senate committee for hearings.

Social Determinants Of Health

“Making Communities Healthier Means Improving Health, Not Just Healthcare,” by Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Houston-based Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF), on its V1sion Blog, February 6. Using the example of Angel, a child with severe and recurring asthma, Marks says that in both Texas and the broader United States, “when faced with population health crises like childhood asthma or heart disease,” authorities have responded the same way they would “if they were communicable diseases, by pouring more money” into health care, such as treatments. However, these are chronic conditions that one cannot “catch.” For example, addressing environmental conditions where Angel lives “may be the most effective prescription” for him. Marks notes that the “EHF is dedicated to going beyond the doctor’s office and supporting solutions that address the underlying causes of poor health in Texas” and has joined several other funders in supporting the BUILD Health Challenge.

Read more about BUILD in my GrantWatch column in the February 2017 issue of Health Affairs and in a February 16 Health Affairs Blog post by Amy Slonim of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

“Healthier Lives: Our Plans for 2017,” by Jo Bibby, director of strategy at the Health Foundation in London, United Kingdom, on its blog, January 27. This British charity wants “to see a change in the conversation around health.” Bibby says that the Health Foundation hopes “to raise awareness of the wider determinants of health. . . .and build an understanding of health as an asset.” In summer 2017, the funder will call for research to explore how good health contributes to economic and social development. She comments that we know less about this than “about the economic costs of poor health.” If policy makers had “a better understanding of this evidence” on the value of good health, perhaps they would “take a longer term, ‘investment’ perspective on building health by tackling” problems with its wider determinants (such as education, housing, and jobs) “rather than solely treating illness,” she maintains.

Bibby also mentioned that the Health Foundation has been working with the RWJF and learning from its efforts ‘to build a culture of health.” In addition, the Health Foundation will conduct “a two-year inquiry to understand the future health prospects of young people.” Read more here.