Using AHRQ’s Data Analytics to Understand Today’s Critical Healthcare Issues

By Joel Cohen, Ph.D., Director of AHRQ’s Center for Financing, Access and Cost Trends & Gopal Khanna, M.B.A., Director of AHRQ
Twitter: @AHRQNews

As AHRQ continues to collect and disseminate data that describe trends in U.S. healthcare, we are often reminded of an important principle: data alone are often not enough.

What’s needed is data analytics—the capacity to help healthcare decision-makers who too often are handicapped in their efforts to make the best possible policy decisions. Only through the effective translation and analysis of today’s raw numbers will we adequately identify and confront our most pressing healthcare challenges.

As you may recall from a recent blog post, establishing a data and analytics platform to support healthcare decision-making is a top priority for AHRQ. That goal stands as one of AHRQ’s three areas of future emphasis, along with improving care for people with multiple chronic conditions and reducing diagnostic errors.

AHRQ’s capacity to collect and analyze healthcare data are well-established. The Agency’s Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) uses a team of survey specialists nationwide to collect detailed information on how consumers access, use, and pay for care. AHRQ’s Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP), in turn, provides a national resource on health policy issues, including use of hospital care, medical practice patterns, and treatment outcomes at national, State, and local market levels.

Moving forward, we are committed to a vision in which AHRQ’s data capabilities will grow in ways that align with the rapid advances in the Nation’s digital healthcare ecosystem. AHRQ’s capacity to understand and encourage the effective use of data will be increased through the development of predictive analytics teams, partnerships that establish State and local data platforms, and national physician practice and organization databases. These enhanced data analytics capabilities will ensure that Federal, State and local policymakers will have timely and accurate data and useful analyses to make informed healthcare decisions.

AHRQ’s new initiatives will complement efforts already underway. Current Agency activities include sponsorship of a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) cross-agency data enterprise working group; expansion of MEPS to enhance its capacity for State-level data estimates; establishment of a Federal social determinants of health database; and sponsorship of an open competition to develop online tools that provide public access to social determinants of health data.

These efforts, taken together, have a high potential for impact. Greater use of predictive analytics can lead to more timely responses to complex policy questions; better predictions of healthcare access, costs, and outcomes; and an improved 360-degree understanding of the healthcare system.

As AHRQ works to build a data and insight platform, the Agency is already teaming up with partners to address national healthcare needs through the application of data and analytics to a number of critical issues. For example:

  • As Hurricane Florence approached the Carolinas last September, an analysis of HCUP data was used to help the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response predict the extent and location of increased hospitalizations and emergency department visits.
  • MEPS and HCUP were used to conduct analyses for the Assistant Secretary of Health on the use of opioids and rates of hospitalizations for opioid misuse among the elderly. Among the key findings: nearly 4 million seniors, on average, filled four or more opioid prescriptions per year, and nearly 10 million filled at least one opioid prescription.
  • Analyses using MEPS data were used by HHS to quantify trends in drug prices by payer and drug patent status as a tool to help inform Departmental efforts to address rising prices.

AHRQ’s capabilities clearly position the Agency as a uniquely valuable source of data and analytics for use by health system leaders; Federal, State, and local policymakers;researchers; and others. We will continue to expand this unique analytic expertise as a vital part of the Agency’s strategy to identify and address the future healthcare needs of all Americans.

This article was originally published on AHRQ Views Blog and is republished here with permission.