A Game Plan to Improve Wellness Through Data

Boise, ID, December 16, 2014 - BY BRAD IVERSON-LONG Idaho Business Review

Much the way Amazon or Netflix targets its recommendations for books or movies, a Boise company plans to use vast quantities of data to tailor health recommendations to individual patients.

Health care technology startup Proskriptive is building a "wellness automation platform" that will turn the data generated by the health industry into individualized treatment plans.

The platform will analyze managed populations of individuals in a health care system, such as Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance. It's designed to break that population down into different segments, based on factors including age and health conditions, exposure to risk, and expected response to different treatments or incentives, said founder and managing director Michael Hollenbeck.

"You can get a really good profile of people – what their challenges are, what their needs are – and then will they take steps to do something about that," Hollenbeck said. For example, he said, the model could treat two people who are overweight or have diabetes differently depending on whether they want to improve their health or are fine with their condition.

"We're trying to build predictive models that help us determine activation levels within populations," he said. Hollenbeck and others familiar with the company compared it to the recommendations that frequently pop up on Amazon or Netflix that are based on a person's shopping or viewing history. "Think of it as target marketing for health care, using all the unbelievable computing power that's been developed over the past 30 years to keep people healthy," Hollenbeck said.

So far, the health care industry hasn't used its reams of data to its full potential, said Michael Mercy, medical director for Idaho and Montana Health Services at PacificSource Health Plans in Boise. Mercy used to work with Hollenbeck. "It's very powerful technology, one that health care seemingly ignored for many years because it was used for the IBMs of the world or Amazon," Mercy said.

The data needs to be presented carefully to be useful, said Hollenbeck. The company is focusing on data visualizations that present the information intuitively. "If you put it in a spreadsheet, literally 98 percent of the people out there will not understand what you just set in front of them," he said.

Mercy agreed, saying that it can be difficult to get people to engage in their health. For example, his father died of a stroke that he said could have been prevented if he had better treated his heart disease.

"Part of what you have to do with predictive analytics is not just identify the person at risk. That can be easy," Mercy said," but how do you then intervene?" Hector Rodriguez, the national director of Microsoft's Health and Life Science Industry Unit, said the health care system is one of several industries that needs help in understanding the data it uses. Doing so properly will save money, he said. "I'm a firm believer that the data is trying to tell us something. It's trying to tell us what to do, but we're not all that good at listening," he said. "Proskriptive's platform uses Microsoft's Azure ML, a cloud-based machine learning service the large software company released publicly in June. Rodriguez described machine learning as computers being able to learn from data without being reprogrammed, which allows them to evolve their models to reduce variation. He compared the Azure ML service to IBM's Watson supercomputer that won the game show Jeopardy! As a cloud service, it is cheaper for customers to use. "Everybody can't afford a Watson. As we go to the cloud-based services, the economies of scale start to make it available to everybody," Rodriguez said.

Proskriptive is the fifth technology company Hollenbeck has worked for, and third in health care. He most recently founded the health care practice at Predixion Software, a predictive analytics software company based in California. He also worked in Boise for WhiteCloud Analytics, as well as at ProClarity and later Microsoft, after it acquired ProClarity. Hollenbeck said he decided to start Proskriptive because he wanted to continue to focus on the health care industry, to take advantage of new open-source tools he could use to develop predictive analytics, and to travel less than he had been.

The seven-month-old company now has six employees and four customers, none of whom Hollenbeck would name. Three of them are in Idaho, and one is in Tennessee. He said Boise is a good place for health care technology companies and that the area's health care leaders, both at hospitals and government agencies, are looking for changes. "I'm really amazed at how forward-thinking these guys are. They've been extremely supportive," he said.

Press Contact:
Elsa MacDonald
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