Institute Forum

N.Y. Official: Better Access to Data Would Improve Health Care June 8, 2009

N.Y. Official: Better Access to Data Would Improve Health Care

As President Obama calls for cutting excess health-care costs throughout the nation, New York state may be well positioned to provide a model for doing so through the use of data.

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James Sheehan's slide presentation

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That's according to a New York official whose responsibility for the last two years has been to trim costs associated with fraud and abuse in the state's Medicaid system. New York State Medicaid Inspector General James G. Sheehan told an audience at the Rockefeller Institute of Government on June 8 that data available at both the state and federal levels can be mined for cost-cutting, as well as improved medical results for patients — if accessibility to that data is improved.

New York's Medicaid recordkeeping could serve as an example for other states and the federal government, he said, as it coordinates a host of patient information, including doctors, clinics, prescription drug use, and hospital stays. In other states, and at the federal level, that information is often split up and not easily cross-referenced.

"We have the opportunity to be a national leader, because our data is so good, because our systems are so good," Sheehan said.

Sheehan's presentation was filled with examples of improperly managed data — as when a government agency maintains separate databases on a patient's physician information, prescription usage and hospital stays, for instance — or in some cases, what he characterized as a flat reluctance among government offices to share information.

In the area of prescription drug usage, for instance, Sheehan said that there is no reliable source of information on the negative side effects of drugs on patients — including how many deaths such side effects cause. Even learning about known problems with drugs can be a daunting task, as the Food and Drug Administration does not maintain a consistent and reliable data system for doctors, pharmacists and patients to access, he said.

Integrating data and making it more accessible would open up numerous opportunities for eliminating poor but costly choices in the medical system, and also for improving the results of medical treatments, Sheehan stressed.

His office was established in 2007, following a highly publicized 2005 report in The New York Times that concluded the state was making billions of dollars in improper Medicaid payments annually.With support from state officials of both major political parties, the office has grown from 400 to 600 staff, Sheehan said.



The Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government, the public policy research arm of the State University of New York, conducts fiscal and programmatic research on American state and local governments. It works closely with federal, state, and local government agencies nationally and in New York, and draws on the State University’s rich intellectual resources and on networks of public policy academic experts throughout the country.