Wick Communications

Making big data useful

In Data journalism on April 11, 2014 at 8:58 am

big data

Today, journalism is more than a series of 20-inch stories from government meetings wrapped around the occasional human interest story. Take, for instance, this fairly amazing database from the New York Times (and thank you, Wick Group Publisher Tom Lee, for bringing it to my attention.)

Go ahead and type in the name of your doctor. What do you see? Probably that your doc makes a lot of money from our government. Hundreds of doctors earned millions of dollars from taxpayers by treating Medicare patients. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, of course, but it sure is eye-opening. And it’s just one way a newspaper with the resources of the New York Times is telling the hidden story of how Medicare works. Why now? This week, the federal government released a slew of information on Medicare Part B payments, which cover doctors’ visits, tests and certain treatments, from the year 2012. It is the first time such information has ever been commonly available. The Times was clearly ready for that wave of information.

It may feel overwhelming and perhaps we aren’t ready to use big data in quite this way ourselves. But there are local numbers you can glean from the data, even by using the Times interface:

  • Which local doctors got the most money in 2012? Just type in the zip code and see for yourself. Call the sweepstakes winner. See what he has to say about it. …

  • Are there certain specialties that are most likely to lean on Medicare payments? (Hint: Yes, there are.) What do specialists in your market have to say about that?
  • What do patients think about this stuff? Will they use this information to make more informed decisions about their health care?
  • Make a collection like this about your own Medicare-related stories over the years. You can do it with Blox tools and it’s pretty simple. Ask me how.

There is a significant caveat here. The Times interface shows the limits of big data by itself. You can’t infer much of anything from a single doctor’s total take. Don’t leap to the judgment that there is anything wrong, say, with a dermatologist earning $1 million from Medicare. You have to do more homework.

The point is this: Data like this is increasingly easy to find in the Internet age. You don’t have to be a Web developer to make use of it.

Clay

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  1. Reblogged this on AllThingsBigData and commented:
    Ever wondered how much your doctor makes from the government?
    This website =>http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/09/health/medicare-doctor-database.html?_r=1

    Will help you understand how much they make from the government funds.

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