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Quantifying Good Health in Colorado


Using Big Data to Improve Quality of Life

Over the course of one person’s life, he or she may generate more than 12 terabytes of personal health data. If you were to store that information, it would be the same as archiving more than 6,000 hours of video.

That data holds incredible insights on human health and how to improve it.


In a state that consistently ranks as one of the country’s healthiest, healthcare leaders in Colorado saw the potential of ‘Big Data’ early. They visualized how experts could combine, analyze, and share structured and unstructured patient data to improve the speed and accuracy of clinical diagnoses, match prevention and treatment strategies to outcomes, identify patients or populations at risk for specific diseases, and suggest both individual and public interventions and policies to mitigate those risks for the greater good.

Through a number of public and private activity and initiatives, Colorado’s governing bodies, along with its public and private bioscience and healthcare sectors, are working together to assume a forward-looking, leadership position as the nation explores this new frontier.

One of the groundbreaking organizations focused on healthcare data is the Center for Improving Value in Health Care (CIVHC), based in Denver.

Jonathan Mathieu, Ph.D., is vice president of research & compliance and chief economist at the non-profit, non-partisan organization. He says various public organizations and initiatives in the state are coming together to improve population health.

“There is a lot of collaboration in Colorado, and an independent, can-do spirit that fits well with the Governor’s goal to make this both the healthiest state in the nation and an attractive place to locate business,” says Mathieu.

Recommendations made in 2008 by Colorado’s Blue Ribbon Commission for Health Care Reform contributed to the formation of CIVHC and other entities, including:

All-Payer Claims Database (APCD)Aggregates, analyzes and reports on claims data collected from health insurance plans covering the majority of insured Colorado residents in order to understand variation in patterns of spending for medical services, utilization, or prevalence of chronic disease. Managed by CIVHC.

Colorado Regional Health Information Organization (CORHIO): Makes it easy to securely exchange information with healthcare providers in local communities and statewide. Participation in the CORHIO HIE network gives immediate access to send and/or receive data from other providers who participate in the CORHIO HIE network. CORHIO currently exchanges data for more than four million unique patients.

Colorado Health Observation Regional Data Service (CHORDS): Represents a collaborative effort between Denver-metro providers, convened by the Colorado Health Initiative (CHI) to standardize and normalizes clinical data from multiple Electronic Health Record (EHR) formats into virtual data warehouses (VDWs). Data can be queried by health departments and other public entities to answer health questions about specific Colorado populations.

“We can look in a timely way at tobacco use rates, or conditions like asthma, depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, all through the virtual data warehouse, and categorize them by region, sociodemographics, age, gender and race,” says Arthur Davidson M.D., project director, CHORDS. “We can visualize them at a granularity that goes down to the community level. We can thus turn clinical data into information that informs action, allowing us to design or change community-based intervention strategies, policy-based system changes, and environmental changes, and then monitor the progress and outcomes of those interventions.”

Ultimately, the lessons of Big Data are showing that inborn molecular traits, socioeconomic circumstances, environmental conditions, behavioral choices, and medical care quality and utilization—and the interplay between these domains—all play a critical role in shaping health at both the individual and population level.

The enormous level of statewide activity dedicated to collecting, sharing, analyzing, governing, and responding to health data is the power of our collaborative and entrepreneurial environment.

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