One of the more significant developments in the intelligent use of IT to help rein in costs kicked off this week in the form a new Web site that allows patients to compare pricing for healthcare services delivered by doctors in their healthcare network and those outside the network.
From a technology perspective, this might not sound all that amazing. After all, insurance providers have been consulting a similar database for years that was operated by a unit of United Healthcare. But after an investigation into the validity of that data, United Healthcare agreed to fund the development of a new, more open database that will be operated by a non-profit company called FAIR Health, starting within the next year. United Healthcare admitted no wrong-doing as part of the settlement, but did agree to provide $100 million in funding to set up FAIR Health.
The formal announcement of FAIR Health was made earlier this week by New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo as part of a settlement his office made with United Healthcare last April. Beyond the political grandstanding of a re-announcement of deal made last spring that was probably aimed at boosting Cuomo's political capital as he prepares to run for governor, the existence of an open database creates an opportunity for information services to leverage analytics and business intelligence software to provide all kinds of insights about the cost of healthcare. And if those services could analyze that information alongside other public sources of data, such as the Center for Disease Control or any number of other research organizations, all kinds of new information could probably be ascertained.
The most striking thing about the healthcare industry is that there is no shortage of data. It seems like there is a record for just about everything. What's been missing is any meaningful attempt to organize that data inside a useful set of applications. The good news is that as business intelligence software gets coupled with search engines designed specifically index healthcare data, all this is about to finally change for the better.