With New Challenge Competition, AHRQ Asks Innovators for a Tool to Forecast the Future

By Gopal Khanna, M.B.A., Director of AHRQ
Twitter: @AHRQNews

Recently, I had the privilege of speaking at AcademyHealth’s 2019 Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C. It was an important milestone for AcademyHealth: the 10th anniversary of an annual gathering that’s become a must-attend event for those tracking the rapid changes in today’s healthcare landscape.

Like other attendees, I found Datapalooza to be highly energizing. And I was struck by two important points: First, I was reminded that it’s an exciting time for policymakers, researchers, data experts, and others who are committed to finding new, innovative strategies to improve the lives of patients. The seeds of change are everywhere, whether in new healthcare system alignments, emerging technologies, or the rapid changes occurring in the volume, variety, and velocity of available data.

However, I was also reminded that we’re living with a gap in the availability of data and information to guide the decisions that policymakers, health system leaders, and providers are faced with each and every day—and the imperative to act right now as boldly as we can to make more data and information as accessible and usable as possible.

That’s why AHRQ has taken steps to spur innovation and the development of new solutions to these problems through our challenge competitions, and why I was so pleased that I could announce at the conference our newest data challenge: Bringing Predictive Analytics to Healthcare.

We know that some healthcare policy decisions must be made quickly. There are times when it’s simply not possible to wait for answers that come from traditional research methods. In these cases, the most informed decisions may come from predictive analytics—complex statistical techniques that analyze and learn from current and historical facts to make educated predictions about future events.

Other industries have used predictive analytics and related methods to anticipate future challenges and opportunities. Healthcare, unfortunately, has lagged behind. But AHRQ believes that predictive analytics has the potential to help policymakers, researchers, and others anticipate and plan for emerging needs in healthcare utilization and spending. While others continue their impressive efforts to develop new treatments and cures, we need to address the imperative to provide healthcare to people who require it now—whether preventive care or palliative care or at any other care point between the two. Predictive analytics is an essential tool to help meet that goal.

Participants in AHRQ’s challenge will use predictive analytics and related methods to estimate hospital inpatient utilization for selected U.S. counties for 2017, as well as lengths of stay for selected U.S. counties for 2016. Access to several years of discharge data will be available, including hospital inpatient discharges. Applicants may use any publicly available data, such as from the U.S. Census Bureau or other sources. We plan to select three winners with a total prize pool of $225,000.

The deadline to apply is June 28, and the winners will be selected by July 31. Participants may apply independently or in collaboration with others, including health information technology developers, social scientists, healthcare providers, artificial or machine intelligence scientists, or others. More information is available on the Challenge website.

My colleagues and I find this challenge exciting not only for its own sake, but for the potential it may hold for developing a predictive methodology to support future healthcare decision- making. As I often say to AHRQ staff, we should always be thinking about how we can quicken the pace of innovation and glean insights from data in ways that help us anticipate our most pressing challenges.

This challenge competition and other efforts underway at AHRQ are all part of our vision to improve the lives of patients, while achieving our aim of helping healthcare systems and professionals deliver care that is high quality, safe, and high value. We’re achieving our aim by drawing on the Agency’s rich legacy and core competencies in health systems research, practice improvement, and data and analytics. Working together, I know we can get there.

I’ll keep you posted on our newest challenge. In the meantime, please consider applying. And I look forward to seeing all of you at AcademyHealth’s 2019 Annual Research Meeting in June!

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