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5 companies using big data to solve healthcare problems

"Big data" won't do much to improve healthcare without big analytics.

Thanks in part to billions in federal subsidies for electronic medical records (EMRs), it won't be long before the U.S. is awash in vast, almost incomprehensible amounts of health data. It follows that developing the analytics to draw meaningful conclusions out of those mountains of data will become an increasingly important — and lucrative — area for companies in the health IT industry.

"Leaders in every sector will have to grapple with the implications of big data," stated a report earlier this year from McKinsey, which noted that the U.S. healthcare sector could create more than $300 billion in value every year if it were to "use big data creatively and effectively to drive efficiency and quality."

Loosely speaking, big data can refer to anything involving voluminous sets of data. However you define big data, its promise isn't lost on investors, as shown by a recently announced $100 million "Big Data Fund" from Accel Partners. (The fund is looking beyond just healthcare investment opportunities, it should be noted.)

Lisa Suennen, managing member with Corte Madera, California-based Psilos Group, is another venture capitalist who's a big believer in the promise of big data.

"If the healthcare system is going to overcome the financial crisis it currently faces, it must adopt methods to customize and personalize care, improve quality of care and significantly reduce inflationary trends by making it possible to measure and deliver true value," she said. "Big data and the use of analytics is an essential tool in the ability to bring these features to the healthcare system."

Here's a quick look at five companies leveraging big data — and big analytics — to solve medical problems. Most focus at least in part on culling useful data from massive amounts of patient records.

SeeChange Health: San Francisco-based SeeChange thinks it offers a better way of designing health insurance plans, with what it calls "value-based benefits." In addition to paying for care when a patient is sick or in an accident, SeeChange's plans offer financial incentives — cash rewards or lower out-of-pocket costs — to patients who complete specific action plans. The company uses a substantial amount of data gleaned from personal health records, claims databases, lab feeds and pharmacy data to identify patients with chronic illnesses who would benefit from a customized compliance program.

Once a patient is enrolled, the data analytics engine is used to monitor compliance and to continue to customize the patient's experience to meet clinical goals. SeeChange provides health insurance plans for companies that employ between two and 200 people. Its investors include Maverick Capital and Psilos Group.

Humedica: This company combines its data analytics with a real-time clinical surveillance and decision support system. Boston-based Humedica aims to provide clinicians with insight into how specific patient populations are treated and the quality, efficacy and cost of that care. The company's surveillance software identifies high-risk, high-cost patients, tracks necessary care and supports clinician interventions.

The company also sells its detailed clinical spending data to life sciences companies, with the idea that customers will use it to quantify patient populations, market share and market opportunities. Humedica has raised more than $50 million over its lifetime. Investors include Bain Capital Ventures, General Catalyst Partners, North Bridge Venture Partners and the investment bank Leerink Swann.

Castlight Health: San Francisco-based Castlight's aim is to push transparency in healthcare pricing by offering consumers a search engine to find prices of healthcare services. Castlight's technology allows consumers to run side-by-side comparisons of out-of-pocket medical expenses. Armed with prices, consumers will then shop for bargains, limiting the growth of healthcare costs, the company says.Safeway, the grocery store chain that employs 200,000 people, was Castlight's first customer.

The company has raised $81 million from a host of investors, including Morgan Stanley, Oak Investment Partners, Venrock, Cleveland Clinic and U.S. Venture Partners. Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal acclaimed Castlight as the top venture-backed company in the U.S.

Explorys: Cleveland-based Explorys has started what it calls a Google-like service that helps clinicians analyze in real-time information culled from troves of EMRs, financial records and other data . The idea is that medical researchers can mine the vast amounts of data to learn how variations in treatment can affect outcomes, uncovering best practices to enhance patient care and lower costs.

The company's technology was developed by a physician formerly at the Cleveland Clinic, which is an Explorys investor. Other investors include Austin Ventures and Foundation Medical Partners."Organizations that understand how to deal with massive amounts of unstructured data and instantly draw correlations will figure out ways to improve quality while reducing costs along the way," said Chief Technology Officer Charlie Lougheed.

Apixio: For Apixio, it's all about search. The San Mateo, California-based company's technology brings together data from structured sources like EMRs with unstructured data, such as a physician's patient encounter notes. The company's software uses natural language processing technology to interpret clinicians' free-text searches and return the most relevant results.

Apixio's software is based on what it calls its Medical Application Terminology Relation IndeX (MATRIX), a massive proprietary knowledge base of medical concepts and the semantic relations between them. The company raised a series A round of investment last year, but didn't identify its investors.

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