Bringing Moneyball to Medicine

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For most of the last year I had the privilege of serving as director of the US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), the lead federal agency charged with improving the safety and quality of America’s health care system. AHRQ is not a payer or regulator. It develops the knowledge, tools, and data needed to improve the health care system and help Americans, health care professionals, and policymakers make informed health decisions.

Change is a reality of our political process. When the new administration took over last month, I reluctantly departed to return to my work as a primary care physician and a health services researcher at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). The completion of my work at AHRQ did nothing to dampen my excitement about AHRQ’s future and its readiness to support transformation to an improved health care system.

In meetings with staff at AHRQ, I described our challenge as bringing Moneyball to medicine. It was my way of pointing out how major league sports have integrated data analytics into their workflow to improve team performance. There is a parallel opportunity for us in health care.

Moneyball is a movie based on the true story of Billy Beane, the general manager of Major League Baseball’s Oakland A’s. The film tells the story of a ballplayer-turned-executive, played by Brad Pitt, who finds himself stuck with an underperforming team that makes roster choices based largely on the opinions of “expert” scouts. While these scouts know a lot more than the average person does about the star potential of young players, they also have a remarkable number of misfires, leading the team to spend money on players who don’t pan out.

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