Even with the expansion of the care team to include social workers and dietitians, the patterns that predict readmission continue to elude caregivers, Merkin says. With the Heritage Health Prize, "the same kind of people that put us on the moon, the same kind of people that put Curiosity's rover on Mars, those are the kinds of people that are now working on these kinds of problems."
The history of prize-based scientific breakthrough stretches long back in time before the prize Charles Lindbergh won by flying nonstop between New York and Paris in 1927. In many cases, the winners of such prizes are building new industries, Merkin says.
Every six months, to encourage contestants, Heritage Health Prize awards some intermediate progress prize money. This also serves as a way of introducing contestants to each other and helping build the healthcare problem-solver community, Merkin says.
One of the perils of big data is the potential that data, having had its personally identifying elements stripped away, can be analyzed such that it becomes again attributable to individuals, threatening their privacy. With HIPAA concerns in mind, Merkin contacted experts who had helped Netflix overcome such concerns during its own data-mining competition. "Our No. 1 issue was keeping the privacy concern at the forefront," he says.
Any science or technology has potentially good and bad uses. When the final prize is awarded in April 2013, the science developed in its service will be made available to research institutions. "We want to make sure that people do not use it for any adverse purposes, so we were concerned initially that anyone could use it not for the betterment of mankind."