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What a fabulous opportunity: Nashville leaders on the future of healthcare

Not only is data being recognized as a valuable asset in the health care industry, but the ability to analyze it is getting faster and it’s affecting patient outcomes.

That was the message Thursday from HCA Healthcare Inc. (NYSE: HCA) Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jonathan Perlin, who was the keynote speaker at the Nashville Business Journal’s Health Care of the Future: Data Science breakfast at the Hutton Hotel.

Perlin was joined on stage by a panel of Nashville health care and tech leaders, including Digital Reasoning CEO Brett Jackson, Vanderbilt University Medical Center Chief Informatics Officer Dr. Kevin Johnson, Ascension Health Senior VP and Chief Medical Information Officer Dr. John Pirolo and Asurion Chief Analytics Officer Faker Zouaoui. Dr. Mike Schatzlein, an adviser with Jarred Phillips Cate & Hancock Inc. and former Saint Thomas Health CEO, moderated the discussion.

Perlin said the question is not whether hospital systems are creating data, it is whether they are learning from it. One area where HCA has used data to improve care is in preventing infections.

One in 20 patients leave the hospital with an infection they did not come in with, Perlin said, resulting in 80,000 deaths per year. HCA decided to capture data from three competing treatments as 75,000 patients at 43 hospitals entered intensive care units.

The first was to screen patients for MRSA infections and, if they tested positive, were treated in isolation. The second approach was to isolate MRSA-positive patients and give them an anti-septic sponge bath and nose antibiotic. The final treatment was to skip the screenings and give all patients an anti-septic sponge bath and nose antibiotic.

The study found that the third treatment reduced MRSA by 37 percent and cut life-threatening blood stream infections by 44 percent, Perlin said. What was also notable, he said, was that it was the first large scale implementation of computerized data to answer a health care problem.

It was just one example of how health care data is being analyzed on a global scale, Perlin said.

“It’s hard to overestimate how massive this is and how many people around the world are processing American health care data,” Perlin said. “I think that’s really exciting because we can now use technology like data science and data analytics to make sense of things that used to take human brain power a long time to do.”

One of the companies analyzing that data is Nashville-based Digital Reasoning, who works with HCA (HCA invested in the company in 2015) to look at old data — both computerized and in hand written doctor notes — to recognize patterns to predict outcomes.

Digital Reasoning’s Jackson, who had no health care background before working with HCA, said what got him interested in the partnership was the untapped wealth of information.

“I have an analytics background, no health care, but what attracted me to the partnership is that the bulk of the data in health care is unstructured [not in a database] and all the value there is in data we haven’t yet looked at,” Jackson said. “What a fabulous opportunity.”

Perlin said the industry is working to speed up the analysis of information to the point where doctors will be notified of an irregular heartbeat through a patient’s FitBit and proactively call them in for an appointment.

Improved data analyzation will also speed up research like HCA’s MRSA study by looking at historic medical information.

“What if you could reach backward and tap the collective memory of health care and not take 18 months, but in fact answer that question in 18 minutes?” Perlin said.

This article was originally published in the Nashville Business Journal.