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Vol 19, No. 10, October 2015   |   Issue PDF view/purchase
Chew on It!
How Singapore-based health informatics company MHC Asia Group crunches big-data to uncover your company’s health

MHC Asia Group began as a medical network to assist small independent clinics in Singapore to service large corporates through economies of scale and scope. 21 years and onwards, this budding health informatics company is the leading medical third-party administrator in Singapore, with expanding regional operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. The enterprise began as a mission to help fellow family doctors, and it turned into a long-term vision to connect health across networks or ‘make health connect’. Hence, in short the company’s name, MHC.

“Healthcare is fragmented. Patients and investors in the health industries are disconnected from each other. MHC’s vision is to connect the healthcare providers and stakeholders together with effective use of information technology,” says Dr. Low Lee Yong, founder and CEO of MHC, who is also a general practitioner.

Today, over 2,000 clinics are registered under the MHC network across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and Philippines. More than half a million employees from thousands of corporates are cared for under the wings of the network. In Singapore, MHC handles over 1.5 million medical claims per year from family doctors, specialists, dentists and TCM practitioners.

MHC developed its own web-based system to assist companies to process their outpatient medical claims. This is a revolutionary approach considering the initiative took place before the internet explosion. “Medical claims processing is a labour-intensive and expensive game. The idea was to connect everyone, simplify procedures and to go paperless,” says Dr. Low.

It was through this system that the network started to collect information at the point of consultation such as medication prescribed by doctors, days of sick leave issued, or any referrals to hospital specialists. This information turned out to be extremely useful for MHC’s clients.

As more data was amassed, MHC has the capabilities to highlight frequently-occurring conditions among patients, patients whom have placed an exceptional and unusual high amount of claims, the company’s medical expenditure, and the comparison of medical expenditures among and between companies from the same industry.

Diagnosis Profile of ABC Pte Ltd (Excludes Lab & X-rays)

With so much data to safe keep, MHC decided to provide regular reports to its clients regarding the health profile and medical claims of their employees, raising the bar for the industry. Clients will also be notified on an ad-hoc basis when exceptional usage patterns are detected – such as when an employee is diagnosed with a pandemic illness including SARS and MERS, or when the frequency of visits exceeds from far norm.

Some clients have since implemented changes at their workplace based on these insights. One company had to conduct workshops to educate its employees on workplace ergonomics, after many employees complained they were suffering from back and neck pain.

Another company changed its canteen menu after an increased rate of chronic diseases was flagged out to its management. “Recently, we were told there is a high incidence of high blood pressure and diabetes were among our staff. This information was helpful for our occupational nurse who could plan activities and programmes to tackle the problem. As simple as to re-plan the menu with less salt and less sugar in our canteen,” shares Ms. Maureen Tan, HR director of UTC Aerospace Systems.

Furthermore, monitoring sick leave statuses also allowed performance issues to be addressed. “Companies like to know which employee is doctor hopping and, who is trying to maximise their [paid] medical leave quota for the year,” says Dr. Low. Apart from monitoring medical sick leave status, incentives can then be introduced and given to employees who keep healthy and demonstrate good work ethics.

In addition to uncovering behaviour patterns in patients, the big-data has enabled MHC in the detection of fraudulent claims within its clinic network. “We helped our clients recover over $600,000 of fraudulent claims from big data,” says Dr. Low who personally oversees the data analytics. Many of the disputed claims involve clinics prescribing ‘phantom medications’ which were never issued to patients.

Other examples of what the Data Analytics picked up:

  • Falsified claims for ‘designer’ drugs whereby an inexpensive generics were actually dispensed for treatment – a doctor prescribed Arcoxia to every patient with cough or colds. Arcoxia is a branded anti-inflammatory painkiller. He made about $63,000 in two years.
  • Claims of doctors dispensing drugs to patients with unrelated ailments - a clinic prescribing over $84,000 of hair-lice treatment to a patient, when in Singapore, they are hardly any cases of scalp lice.
  • There was an unusual spike of clinic visits recorded in a patient’s name. The patient had more than 101 visits to the clinic in a year! A further investigation revealed that the clinic nurse forged the patient’s signature multiple times to claim more consultation fees. The patient was not even present for consultation.

The examples and case studies abovementioned shows the vast potential of what Big Data can do and how it can be effectively utilised to reveal insights – empowering companies with information about their employee’s health profile, detecting anomalies in drug usage patterns and visits which would have otherwise been overlooked. Of course, one must have the relevant domain knowledge to crunch the Data.

Professor Paul Cheung, a former chief statistician to the United Nations, explained the biggest strength of MHC’s database is its large clinical network. The collective data gleaned from every single clinic is invaluable from a public health perspective. “Each one [of the clinic] is a sensor. We are talking big data and insights from real-time information. It’s definitely a first in Singapore, and very unique in the world,” he says.

Tapping on its huge resource of Data, MHC went on to develop a real-time ‘Disease Live Map’ which displays specific medical conditions diagnosed across Singapore and within sections of allocated timeframe.

"From early on we knew the immense potential from mining this data. With time, experience and better computing analytics, we are able to derive deeper insights from healthcare. We used to talk about preventing diseases. The day of predictive healthcare is coming, and you can be sure MHC will be riding this wave,” says Dr Low.

You can have a peek at Singapore's “live” epidemiological situation at www.mhcasia.com/livemap/

About the Author

Dr. Low Lee Yong is a medical doctor. He is also the founder and CEO of MHC Asia group. A firm believer in using technology to simplify healthcare processing, he has formed a network of more than 1,200 clinics in Singapore and 800 clinics in Malaysia till date. He has won many awards which include the International Management Action Award 2013, the prestigious Asia’s Best Brand Award & Outstanding Leadership Award 2012 and Entrepreneur of the Year 2010 Award. A much sought-after speaker, Dr. Low continues to motivate many young aspiring health practitioners and entrepreneurs through his dynamic health and motivational talks.

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