$3 Million Prize Offered to Solve Hospital Admissions Puzzle

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media , December 30, 2010

Attention, wizards, rocket scientists, game theorists and stats nerds:  There's a physician in Los Angeles who wants to give you $3 million.

All you have to do is design an elegant math model that accurately identifies which of 100,000 patients from an actual 2009 database required an unplanned hospital admission in 2010.

The Merkin prize is offered by Richard Merkin, MD, Heritage Provider Network CEO and President. Heritage is an accountable care organization-like physician network that absorbs risk for 700,000 lives in Southern and Central California and New York and which contracts with more than 100 hospitals.

The idea is to design a suitable predictive model, so programs and resources can be focused to prevent those admissions – and readmissions – and potentially realize savings of up to $30 billion, the estimated cost of unnecessary hospitalizations throughout the U.S.

"If we could predict who was going to be hospitalized, we could put resources [in place] to prevent that and then we could reallocate a lot of [what's spent on care] into finding cures," Merkin says.

The $3 million dollar prize is approximately double that of the Nobel Prize in Medicine.

By offering such a high prize, "We will stimulate people who normally would not go into healthcare, brilliant young mathematicians, engineering, and analytical types," says Merkin, a former Southern California emergency department doctor who once directed a medical group for ED physicians.

The less they know about healthcare might be all the better, Merkin says, only half joking.

Specifically, the Marina del Rey doctor says he's looking for scientists who might study gravitational waves, or "whiz kids who might have chosen the space program, or who helped develop the Internet. We want people with young passionate minds, people who don't know what can't be done."

Think "Millennium" prizes for solving tough math problems offered by the Cambridge, MA Clay Mathematics Institute. 


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9 comments on "$3 Million Prize Offered to Solve Hospital Admissions Puzzle"

Rebecca Mitchell (2/6/2011 at 12:53 PM)
@Roy: I couldn't agree more, as a doctor I don't know how I could possibly make admission decisions without a patient's age and weight, they lead to entirely different differentials for what could be happening. (ie, skinny child likely has gastric reflux, whereas obese sixty year old is having a heart attack). Also this problem is already being addressed but not funded elsewhere, as discussed by Atul Gawande recently: http://bit.ly/g3B4Wr Also 3 mill is a paltry sum compared to what this is worth-how about instead providing start up capitol to a few of the best and the brightest to tackle the question? (ie Y Combinator)

Heidi Kirsch (2/5/2011 at 2:26 PM)
One of the most important variables that COULD be utilized to account for the dynamic "human component" is missing from consideration. It's so simplistically obvious, I'm surprised it has been overlooked in any of the efforts I can reseach for reference. I plan to pursue exploration of this through other channels.

Quinn (2/2/2011 at 1:21 PM)
The real question is whether "human doctors" are more accurate? Apparently, they are terribly inaccurate. So if doctors are only 50% correct in evaluating a patient for admission, wouldn't 80% be better? Overworked physicians are no good at accuracy.




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