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Health care network offers $3M for illness-prediction algorithm

Lucas Mearian | March 30, 2011
Heritage Provider Network hopes work can save up to $40B in medical costs a year and make more dollars available for medical research

HPN, a managed healthcare provider with 700,000 enrollees, will allow the developers access to a database of its patients' electronic health records (EHRs) in which all identifying information has been removed.

HPN is hoping its prize will spur the creation of computer algorithm that will be able to scan a person's EHR and determine whether or not preventative care is needed for a medical condition.

This isn't Merkin's first foray into tech innovation contents. He is also a member of the board of directors for the X Prize Foundation, which has offered $10 million to the first non-government entity to launch a reusable manned spaceship into space twice in a two week period.

Merkin got the idea for the contests from other historical challenges that stoked innovation. For example, in the late-1700s France's military troops were starving during extended campaigns because supply lines were stretched and food was going bad. So, Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte offered a cash prize to the person who could develop a reliable method of food preservation.

French cook Nicolas Appert won the 12,000-frank prize when he came up with the idea of heating food prior to canning it.

More than a century later, in 1919, New York hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a prize of $25,000 to the first person who could make a non-stop, trans-Atlantic flight. An unlikely 25-year-old U.S. mail pilot, named Charles Lindbergh, succeeded in collecting that prize.

"If we invent an algorithm that could predict that a particular set of indicators might increase the risk of a person being hospitalized, then that person could be called in proactively to his or her physician for treatment," Merkin said. "We're hoping to improve the quality of healthcare not just in America but worldwide."


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