Eye on the Prize

Could a few million bucks really make a dent in a U.S. healthcare system that costs more than $2 trillion?

Heritage Provider Network, a physicians group based in Northridge, Calif., thinks so. The managed-care organization recently announced $3 million in prizes for teams that can use data mining to design a predictive algorithm for identifying patients at risk for hospitalization. The aim is to prevent those hospital stays in the first place and thereby reduce runaway healthcare spending.

In Wall Street Journal article today, Jonathan Gluck, a senior executive at Heritage, explains that the company sees the contest as a way to “spur innovation and different ways of thinking in healthcare.” By opening up the problem solving to thinkers outside a particular company or an industry, he says, “you get a lot more creative thinking.”

[EXPAND More]Peter Drucker, we believe, would have celebrated Heritage’s eagerness to look for answers this way. In his 1995 book, Managing in a Time of Great ChangeDrucker wrote that “at least half the important new technologies that have transformed an industry in the past 50 years came from outside the industry itself.” For instance, he noted, “commercial paper, which has revolutionized finance in the United States did not originate with the banks. Molecular biology and genetic engineering were not developed by the pharmaceutical industry.”

The idea of using cash awards to spur outside innovation is part of a growing trend by a number of organizations, from Netflix (whose efforts in this area we’ve said would have “earned an enthusiastic thumb’s up from Drucker.”) to the X-Prize Foundation, which is offering seven- and eight-figure bounties for those who create breakthrough technologies for cleaning up the oceans; tackle major challenges in education and global development; advance lunar exploration; and create better, cheaper and faster ways to sequence human genomes.

If you could give out a multimillion-dollar prize to take on any problem in the world, what would it be for?[/EXPAND]