HHS to dig deeper for better decisions

By Bernie Monegain
02:43 PM
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WASHINGTON – For San Francisco-based Archimedes, a company named for a Greek mathematician of antiquity, it’s all about data, math, computing and healthcare modeling. The 20-year-old company deals in information – of the quantitative type. And now it will bring its high-powered analytics skills to bear for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Under a contract with HHS announced last month, Archimedes will dig into large quantities of data to provide several HHS agencies the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of specific health interventions more quickly and more accurately. HHS officials say it signals "a new era of medical decision-making."

The technology will enable the agencies to research, analyze and evaluate the effects of specific healthcare interventions more quickly and accurately, Archimedes executives say.

The company bills the Archimedes Model, developed initially with support from Kaiser Permanente, as “the most advanced mathematical modeling tool available to answer complex questions on health and healthcare.”

Under the contract, HHS will make a new Web-based interface called the Archimedes Healthcare Simulator (ARCHeS) available to its agencies, including the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).

A $15.6 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Pioneer Portfolio in 2007 supported the creation of ARCHeS, which makes the Archimedes Model more accessible and affordable for public policymakers and nonprofit users.

“When we initially made this grant, I said that the development of ARCHeS would usher in a new era in medical decision-making that we believe has the potential to transform health and healthcare,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “By getting ARCHeS in the hands of HHS and all of its agencies, we’ve taken a very big step toward realizing that potential. Our goal has always been to create access to this innovation for the public policymakers and researchers best positioned to use it to inform decisions that will improve health and healthcare for all Americans. We now see that happening.”

“The quality and cost of healthcare are determined by decisions made by policymakers, physicians and others. To make those decisions wisely, decision makers need to know the consequences of the different options they face,” said David Eddy, MD, founder and chief medical officer of Archimedes. “For a high proportion of decisions, the only feasible way to get the needed information is to use mathematical models that integrate existing evidence, and are validated against evidence.

In his view, the contract with HHS will put the analytical power of advanced healthcare modeling on the desks of decision makers in the federal government.

“By combining this tool with their own insights and experience, decision makers will be able to understand much better the effects of different policies, and be able to design policies that achieve the twin goals of improving quality and controlling costs,” said Eddy.

In one of a number of analyses already performed by Archimedes, Kaiser Permanente used forecasts from the model as the impetus to launch a program to provide a bundle of aspirin, lovastatin (a cholesterol-lowering drug), and lisinopril (a blood pressure-reducing drug), to high-risk members. This analysis was used in informing the implementation of Kaiser Permanente’s ALL/PHASE program. The result was a more than 60 percent reduction in heart attacks and strokes over a two-year period.

As a result of HITECH Act and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, the use of modeling and simulation platforms is in high demand for policymakers and researchers. Both of these laws include new requirements for use of data in the design of health benefits; comparative effectiveness of quality, cost, and outcomes; and evaluation of population health efforts.

In March, the federal government launched a research initiative in big data computing for a number of agencies, including the National Institutes of Health.

"The federal government sees a growing need across all of its agencies for innovative resources to aid in research, policy analysis and evaluation,” said U.S. Chief Technology Officer Todd Park. "We’re excited that ARCHeS will now be available to staff across the Department of Health and Human Services. It gives us an important new tool to analyze a wide variety of health policy questions and quickly compare different scenarios and outcomes.”