July 25, 2016

Putting Health Care on the Map

Not all health care is the same. Some is better than others, but how can patients and their families know where to find the best care? How can doctors, hospitals and clinics see where care needs improvement. How can they better direct their staff and financial assets to control costs and save lives?

The answers to all of those questions lie in one of the greatest resources of the 21st Century, Big Data. A combination of large volumes of a great variety of statistics processed at very high speed, Big Data is transforming all aspects of business, including health care. Big Data collected by the Wisconsin Health Information Organization (WHIO) is the tool that drives MyHealthWI.org, a website for patients and their families to compare ratings of clinics and hospitals around the state based on their adherence to nationally recognized standards of care.

One of the ways for researchers and health care systems to evaluate and improve health care in Wisconsin is to study variation in health care quality and cost by regions of the state. Studying and comparing certain factors by region, reveals some significant differences.

By analyzing data, we see that the use of prescription drugs in Wisconsin varies by region. For example, patients of primary care providers in western Wisconsin use prescription drugs 8 percent less than expected when compared to primary care patients statewide, but, in the southern region of the state, prescription drug use among primary care patients is 4 percent higher than expected.[i] 

We also see that, compared to their peers statewide, primary care patients in southeastern Wisconsin use 15 percent more emergency room services than expected. By contrast, primary care patients in the southern region of the state use the emergency room 12 percent less than expected. [ii]

Why such noticeable and, sometimes, costly differences? To improve health care in Wisconsin, having such information is extremely useful. With these data, health care systems and researchers are better able to study the reasons for variation in health care delivery and, thereby, be able to identify best practices, improve quality and lower costs.

To assist in these efforts, the Wisconsin Health Information Organization is putting regional variations in health care delivery on the map, literally. The WHIO Interactive Atlas of Health Care in Wisconsin is a highly-technical, analytic tool that illustrates variations in health care for deeper study. It is proving to be a valuable resource.

For example, WHIO data were used in the successful effort by a group of cardiologists in Wisconsin to win a more than $15 million federal grant to participate in a project for patients with heart disease. Goals of the project are to:

·      reduce complications,

·      reduce the number of unnecessary procedures and resources used,

·      achieve high levels of patient engagement, and

·      improve the quality of heart patients’ lives and increase the number of those who reach their risk-reduction goals.

Data from the WHIO Atlas were also used to show that orthopedic surgeons can achieve more cost savings by adopting more standardized procedures in the operating room.

WHIO’s dedicated staff is continuing to identify and explore variation in health care around the state in its ongoing mission to achieve the highest quality of care at the most appropriate cost for all Wisconsinites.


[i] Source:  WHIO Atlas Volume 2, Risk Adjusted Resource Use by Imputed PCP Region, Measure = Pharmacy Resource Use Index, Western = 0.92, Southern = 1.04.

[ii]  Source:  WHIO Atlas Volume 2, Risk Adjusted Resource Use by Imputed PCP Region, Measure = ER Resource Use Index, Southeastern = 1.15, Southern = 0.88.