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CloudView blog

Ideas and insights to help health care providers stay informed and profitable in today's challenging health care environment.

Deep Data: Cloud-based Health Care Insights

by Iyue Sung, PhD, Director of athenaResearch

Welcome to the inaugural Cloud Analytics blog post, brought to you by the athenaNet Intelligence team. We are a crew of data geeks who firmly believe athenahealth’s greatest asset—other than our clients and coworkers—is our data. While our colleagues are busily building the country’s first health information backbone, our team digs through and mines our massive and growing cloud-based database with an eye toward improving physician and practice performance and nudging the health care industry toward a better future.

Just how big a data set are we talking?

  • 40 million patients
  • 27,000 physicians on the network
  • 11,000 non-physician practitioners
  • More than 12 years of data
  • Input from clients in 48 states

With that kind of scale, we can slice and dice and then share out knowledge with a thoroughness and intelligence that only a cloud-based service can provide.

In future posts, we’ll discuss important or simply interesting themes and trends, each offering a data-driven look at a facet of health care in the United States. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to share our point of view, in real time, on the industry with the greatest impact on our economy and society.

So, to kick it off, here’s our first data insight of the series, a demographic profile of our physician and patient populations.

What does our physician population look like? Very similar to national averages!

Compared to the national population, athenahealth physicians are slightly older (82% over 40 for athenahealth vs. 74% over 40 for U.S.), slightly more male, and very slightly less specialized. Here, we exclude residents and pinch-hitting docs (locum tenens) given year-to-year fluctuations of these two groups. In future posts, depending on the research topic, data for all physicians and non-physician practitioners may be included.

Geographically, we are dispersed across all the lower 48 states, with physicians representing 77 specialties. This map shows athenahealth’s primary care physician (PCP) percentage (the “Specialty” row in the first chart) for each state. Here, you can see that states in the Midwest and West have a higher concentration of PCPs than in the East. In absolute terms, we are well represented in states with large metropolitan populations such as California, Texas, Pennsylvania and Florida.

What does our patient population look like? Again, similar to national averages.

Compared to the national population, athenahealth patients skew older and more female. They are also more likely to be insured, based on patients with claims reimbursed between August 2010 and July 2012. This is consistent with the observation that females, older patients, and patients with insurance are more likely to seek care.

A geographical view of the percentage of patients in each state who are insured shows variation across different areas of the country. As of November 2012, our data draws from approximately 29 million patients with encounters in the last 24 months, or ~9% of the US population. This large footprint forms the core of our research, enabling us to provide a robust and representative view of population health and care delivery patterns.

So that’s a baseline view of our data. What do you think? We already have the data lined up for subsequent posts, on a wide array of topics, but we’d really like to hear from you. What kind of data and trends would you like us to examine more closely? Drop a comment to let us know.

As a tee-up to our next post, here’s a preview of out-of-pocket costs data that we’ll be exploring next. More specifically, we’ll look into deductibles as a percent of what insurers agree to pay providers, or the “contracted rate.”

What does it look like for 2010-2011? Do these trends portend the impact of health care reform, even before its enactment in 2014? Stay tuned!

As a statistician, Iyue is responsible for methodology, analytic infrastructure, and extracting data-driven insights from the athenahealth patient database. 

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