$3 Million Prize Offered to Solve Hospital Admissions Puzzle

Cheryl Clark, December 30, 2010

Attention, wizards, rocket scientists, game theorists and stats nerds:  There's a physician in Los Angeles who wants to give you $3 million.

All you have to do is design an elegant math model that accurately identifies which of 100,000 patients from an actual 2009 database required an unplanned hospital admission in 2010.

The Merkin prize is offered by Richard Merkin, MD, Heritage Provider Network CEO and President. Heritage is an accountable care organization-like physician network that absorbs risk for 700,000 lives in Southern and Central California and New York and which contracts with more than 100 hospitals.

The idea is to design a suitable predictive model, so programs and resources can be focused to prevent those admissions – and readmissions – and potentially realize savings of up to $30 billion, the estimated cost of unnecessary hospitalizations throughout the U.S.

"If we could predict who was going to be hospitalized, we could put resources [in place] to prevent that and then we could reallocate a lot of [what's spent on care] into finding cures," Merkin says.

The $3 million dollar prize is approximately double that of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

By offering such a high prize, "We will stimulate people who normally would not go into healthcare, brilliant young mathematicians, engineering, and analytical types," says Merkin, a former Southern California emergency department doctor who once directed a medical group for ED physicians.

The less they know about healthcare might be all the better, Merkin says, only half joking.

Specifically, the Marina del Rey doctor says he's looking for scientists who might study gravitational waves, or "whiz kids who might have chosen the space program, or who helped develop the Internet. We want people with young passionate minds, people who don't know what can't be done."

Think "Millennium" prizes for solving tough math problems offered by the Cambridge, MA Clay Mathematics Institute. 



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