UnitedHealth Group has announced plans to invest in data science education

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United Health Group announced its plans to invest around $8 million over the next five years to launch a data science initiative with the Atlanta University Center Consortium, a group of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), per Forbes.

Health Insurers Cite Engagement, Tech As Impediments to Successful Value Based Care

Robust data analysis is critical for the implementation of value-based care (VBC), which ties provider compensation to patient outcomes rather than the number of services provided. United covered 15 million patients under a VBC model in 2018, and it's looking to pump that number to a whopping 150 million people by 2025.

Here's what it means: UnitedHealth likely hopes cultivating new data science talent will be the key to tapping into VBC's savings potential - which has faced slow adoption, partly due to hospitals' lack of tech know-how.

  • UnitedHealth's value-based payment reimbursement plans are a critical tool for cutting the costs of care. In 2018, United announced that it observed a 22% drop in readmission rates for patients covered by its VBC Spine and Joint Solution, as well as a 17% decrease in complications for joint replacement surgeries. Fewer complications mean fewer dollars spent: The program also netted an average savings of $18,000 per procedure for partnered employers and $3,000 less in patients' out-of-pocket costs.
  • But VBC implementation has been a big headache for providers - and it's slowing adoption.Nearly 80% of US providers say the shift to value-based care reimbursement models hasn't been successful, according to a 2018 Medical Group Management Association survey of 426 individuals from group health practices. Because VBC relies on accurate data collection and reporting to calculate payment, the clerical burden on doctors has significantly increased. And close to 60% of payers think physicians lack the proper tools to find success under a VBC model, according to a 2018 Quest Diagnostics survey. This friction with providers is putting a major drag on VBC adoption: We reported last week that only 25% of healthcare organizations' revenue comes from VBC, per estimates from a 2018 Optum-sponsored survey.

The bigger picture: While it's commendable that United is encouraging data science at HBCUs, I (Zach) am skeptical that the healthcare sector will be able to lure graduates of the program away from deep-pocketed, talent-hungry tech companies.

Value-based care, AI-based precision medicine, and electronic health records offer great improvements for health outcomes - but they still require talented workers to gather, interpret, and utilize patient data. And with Facebook paying interns $96,000 a year, I doubt that hospitals will be able to compete for the talented data scientists necessary to usher in healthcare's digital transformation.

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