Georgia Tech, IBM partner for 'One Million Healthy Children'

By Mike Miliard
10:42 AM

IBM and the Georgia Institute of Technology have announced a new research initiative that will apply advanced systems modeling and large-scale data analytics capabilities to integrate traditionally disparate data that affects health.

The project, which includes partnerships with Emory University, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Cancer Coalition and the Georgia Department of Community Health, will focus initially on children suffering from diabetes, asthma and autism.

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Officials say the project, called One Million Healthy Children (1MHC), focuses on two specific challenges faced by healthcare providers.

First, the current fee-for-service model in the United States means payment for action rather than for outcome, regardless of treatment effectiveness.

Second, health is affected by myriad factors – not just those that are apparent in lab tests. Factors like transportation, health services, socio-economic status, food resources, educational attainment and many others all impact a child's health, but doctors do not have access to this information.

1MHC will adopt techniques from IBM's services research portfolio to model economic, incentive, treatment, disease and other factors that affect healthcare decisions to find practices and policies that will shift the focus of pediatric care from disease treatment to long-term wellness and disease prevention.

Additionally, IBM and Georgia Tech's Institute for People and Technology and Tennenbaum Institute, will work together to integrate a variety of data sources to advance model development and analysis of the complex system of children's health. The aim of this collaboration is to develop solutions for improved pediatric care.

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"We are working to transform healthcare delivery systems by creating proactive and easily accessible health and wellness technologies," said Stephen E. Cross, executive vice president for research at Georgia Tech. "This project underscores the power partnerships can have in using computing and engineering principles to positively impact children's health."

"The ability to make sense of mountains of data with IBM's analytics capabilities is the perfect pairing to our modeling expertise," said Tennenbaum Institute Executive Director William B. Rouse, co-chair of the National Academies Healthy America Initiative and member of the National Academy of Engineering. "By adding deep analytics to the formula, we hope to systematically improve healthcare delivery, which will allow us to understand the strategic, operational and economic trade-offs of different business models in the healthcare system."

As the program progresses, IBM will provide software as needed through the IBM Academic Initiative, including DB2 for data storage, and SPSS and Cognos for data analytics.

The project will initially focus on diabetes, with asthma and autism to follow.

Over the past decade, the Center for Health Transformation reported increasing cases of Type 2 diabetes in children and adolescents; diabetes has become the sixth leading cause of death in Georgia, and the cost of associated medical care, lost productivity and premature death is over $4 billion a year.

According to the Georgia Department of Community Health, the highest rate of children's emergency room visits in 2010 was asthma-related, while Georgia's autism rates are rising faster than the national average.

The 1MHC program will begin by integrating many types of anonymized healthcare data, which will be aggregated and analyzed. Data on care delivery and clinical practices will be obtained from a variety of participants in Georgia's healthcare eco-system. In the first stages, health records for more than 16,000 children will be analyzed, initially focusing on those suffering from diabetes, then asthma and autism, aiming to optimize policies that support the highest quality pediatric care by aligning treatments, outcomes and costs. Privacy and security of patient data and compliance with all current healthcare regulations will be addressed throughout all phases of the project.

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Officials say the outcome of this collaborative research effort will provide model-based advice and guidance to healthcare providers. The goal is improved alignment of time, money and expertise to achieve the best quality and most cost-effective healthcare possible.

The insights from this project will help healthcare providers and policymakers in the state of Georgia understand the impact of existing healthcare practices and of proposed changes. The model-based advice and guidance will further enable understanding of geographic inequities in healthcare use, quality, expenditure and outcomes, along with highlighting inequities across the pediatric system.

"This innovative initiative, including academia, healthcare and business, addresses some of the most challenging and debilitating diseases of children by acknowledging that child health results from a combination of numerous factors, including environmental, social and economic," says Michael M.E. Johns, MD, chancellor of Emory University. "By gathering and analyzing data about risk factors, prevention, healthcare delivery, economics and outcomes, we can develop new and better ways of improving the health of children."