Doctors’ referrals: Fred Trotter, Ryan Weald and why it matters

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

This is pretty amazing.

When Fred Trotter, our data diving friend, got a collection of doctor referral data under a Freedom of Information request and made it available by crowdfunding on Medstartr, we chose to support him. Fred’s data, as he says, “shows how doctors, hospitals, laboratories and other health care providers team together to treat Medicare patients. This data details how the health care system in the U.S. delivers care.”

So people have been doing things with the dataset, and this remarkable visualization was posted recently by Ryan Weald, another of Fred’s early supporters, on his blog, Ryan Weald’s Blog.

What does this have to do with our interest in the costs of health care?

It’s a topic that was engaged recently by the legendary Andy Grove, chairman emeritus of Intel, in a Wired magazine article and keynote address at a conference in New York.

Pricing disparities in the health-care marketplace are enormous. Prices for similar procedures can vary by a factor of 10 and more, partly because the market is so opaque.

Of course, price alone tells us nothing: we want to know price and quality; quality metrics in health care are also hidden. The referral patterns of doctors — who refers patients to whom, and what does that mean — holds true promise for understanding quality. It’s a map of health-care delivery, as Fred says — with more thoughtful analysis in his piece on The Health Care Blog.

The Holy Grail for all is this equation: Price + Quality = Value. The DocGraph data set — and Weald’s visualization tool — get us closer to that goal.