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HL20: Richard Merkin, MD—Competing to Convert Care Dollars Into Cure Dollars

Scott Mace, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2012

In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Richard Merkin, MD.

This profile was published in the December, 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

 "We noticed that when we identify high-risk patients, we could intercede and prevent a lot of unnecessary care... and hopefully reallocate some of those healthcare care dollars into cure dollars."

If you're trying to solve complex problems in medicine today, it doesn't seem like the thing to do would be to assemble a community of math whizzes who've never met each other, and ask them to team up, compete with each other, and outguess the medical community. But that's just what Richard Merkin, MD, CEO of the Heritage Health Prize is doing.

Start with cash: The $3 million Heritage Health Prize, a data-mining, predictive-modeling competition to reduce avoidable hospital visits, launched in April of last year. Add a tech-powered online community that, this past September included more than 1,500 participants assembled into 1,300 teams that had submitted more than 22,000 entries.

"We noticed that when we identify high-risk patients, we could intercede and prevent a lot of unnecessary care," Merkin says. "It became obvious that if we could identify with greater specificity and sensitivity, then we could really transform healthcare in the world, particularly starting in the United States, and hopefully reallocate some of those healthcare care dollars into cure dollars."

Using historical claims data, competitors predict which patients will be admitted to a hospital within the next year. They can tweak their algorithms once a day, and accuracy rankings are displayed on the leaderboard at www.heritagehealthprize.com.

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