Team from NORC Takes Top Health Analytics Prize at Health Datapalooza

Photo by Edward Brown, AcademyHealth

·       Annual event brings together more than 2,000 stakeholders to discuss how best to put health data to work to improve patient outcomes

·       Contestants demonstrate value of integrated data in managing chronic disease

Winners of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Data Challenge, announced today at Health Datapalooza, highlight the power of integrated datasets to improve treatment decisions for difficult-to-treat, chronic conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. Participants in the challenge developed analytic methods health care practitioners could implement at the point of care.

Using de-identified integrated health care data provided by Optum, an information and technology-enabled health services business, challenge contestants worked to create algorithms to predict clinical response to rheumatoid arthritis management, such as which patients would need additional care provider support to successfully manage their condition. The first challenge of its kind, the Rheumatoid Arthritis Data Challenge drew on both private (non-governmental) de-identified administrative claims data and de-identified clinical data from electronic medical records (EMRs).

“The purpose of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Data Challenge highlighted creative ways new integrated datasets to can be used to improve the critical support care providers offer patients who are dealing with one of the most disabling types of arthritis,” said Paul Wallace, senior scholar in residence at AcademyHealth.

Winners of the Rheumatoid Arthritis Data Challenge, sponsored by Optum, AcademyHealth and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, include:

  • First place: NORC team, led by Shun Zhang
  • Second place: Pragmatics team, led by Jared Spigner
  • Third place: Evolent team, led by Shantanu Phatakwala

Health claims databases have long been used to understand aspects of the health care system, but, having been designed for transactional needs like billing, these databases leave out meaningful information about why certain health care decisions have been made. Bringing in electronic medical records can help fill in the blanks for researchers by combining what clinical treatment was provided with the reasoning behind that decision.

“This integrated data holds enormous promise in helping care providers, health plans and life sciences companies understand unmet needs and opportunities in the health care system,” said Curt Medeiros, president, Life Sciences, Optum. “By linking the ‘what’ and ‘why’ together, this single dataset can help drive meaningfully better decision-making not only for populations, but also at the individual patient level.”

Nine teams were selected as finalists for the competition after submitting proposals outlining their approach and their predictive models. Submissions were evaluated on a technical level as well as the ease with which the results could be easily communicated to care providers, health plans and pharmacists. The judging panel was composed of experts with clinical, data analytics, informatics, and patient experience and included:

Margo Edmunds, Chair; Vice President of Evidence Generation and Translation and Academy Health; Kathleen Kimmel, American Nursing Informatics Fellow at the Office of the National Coordinator; Juergen Klenk, Principal at Deloitte Consulting, LLC; Shari Ling, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services; and Carolyn Petersen, Senior Editors,

“The winners of this challenge have shown how data presented in an accessible way to decision makers can inspire innovation in health care delivery and help inform critical decisions made at the point of care,” said Greg Downing, Executive Director for Innovation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


About AcademyHealth

AcademyHealth is a leading national organization serving the fields of health services and policy research and the professionals who produce and use this important work. Together with our members, we offer programs and services that support the development and use of rigorous, relevant and timely evidence to increase the quality, accessibility, and value of health care, to reduce disparities, and to improve health. A trusted broker of information, AcademyHealth brings stakeholders together to address the current and future needs of an evolving health system, inform health policy, and translate evidence into action.


About Optum

Optum is a leading information and technology-enabled health services business dedicated to helping make the health system work better for everyone. With more than 100,000 people worldwide, Optum delivers intelligent, integrated solutions that help to modernize the health system and improve overall population health. Optum is part of UnitedHealth Group (NYSE:UNH). For more information, visit


About Health Datapalooza

Health Datapalooza is a national conference focused on liberating health data, and bringing together the companies, startups, academics, government agencies, and individuals with the newest and most innovative and effective uses of health data to improve patient outcomes.