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Pop health project finds new ties between health, finances, location


Population health data strategies are finding connections between better health and better quality of living.

Population health data is establishing connections between better health and better quality of living. A March 2017 report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) found that people who are healthier live in places with lower unemployment and higher incomes.

The report findings are based on blinded data of more than 40 million BCBSA members. Researchers looked specifically at ICD-9 diagnoses across 200 health conditions and came up with a BCBS Health Index. The index, launched in November 2016, provides health scores for U.S. counties.

The index brings critical health insights to policymakers, community leaders, business leaders and healthcare professionals, “helping them further focus efforts to improve their communities' health," Scott Serota, president and CEO for BCBSA, said in a statement regarding the report’s findings

Data in action

Moody’s Analytics, a financial risk management firm, applied financial data to the BCBS Health Index to add another layer of research: how economic factors influence community health.

In the counties that scored in the top 10% of the BCBS index, researchers found that residents made more money ($3,700 higher, per capita). Also, the counties were experiencing a 10-year economic growth of 3.5% or higher and had lower unemployment rates.

The data “shows that health and the economy's performance go hand-in-hand," Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Analytics, said in a statement. "Policymakers can use the BCBS Health Index to better understand how health outcomes impact economic growth."

This report is the second edition of a series that looks into the financial well-being of BCBS members. The first edition, released in November 2016, found that five health conditions are at the root of 30% of health problems for BCBS members:  

  • Depression;

  • Anxiety and other mood disorders;

  • Hypertension;

  • Diabetes;

  • High cholesterol; and

  • Substance use disorders.

Next: Similar big data projects crop up



Similar big data projects

RTI International, a health and pharmaceutical research and policy thinktank, also is looking to find intersections between economics and health using big data. It received a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to do so.

The organization will use data from the Project Data Sphere (PDS) to look at health and financial factors that impact 1.7 million people with cancer. The PDS is a not-for-profit initiative by the CEO Roundtable on Cancer’s Life Sciences Consortium. Data from PDS contains blinded patient information from 70 trials. Researchers from RTI will also be using Medical Expenditure Panel Survey survey data from patients and their medical providers.

“Through this project, we’re providing a way to bring a broader perspective to cancer clinical trial data, which enhances the analytic capacity of Project Data Sphere with nationally representative healthcare data that does not typically characterize a controlled study,” said Steve Cohen, PhD, vice president for the RTI International Division of Statistical and Data Sciences, in a statement.

The research began in March 2017, and will continue through fall of 2017.

“This is groundbreaking research,” said Martin J. Murphy, Jr, PhD, chief executive officer of the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, in a statement. “This study will not only shed new light on the socioeconomic circumstances of cancer patients in clinical trials, but also it will help speed the development of new cancer fighting drugs, bringing life-lengthening benefits to both those who join clinical trials, as well as for countless other cancer patients.”


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