Health

Bert Little is about to embark on a very exciting project. He’s building a system to identify Kentucky Medicaid patients with diabetes who are at risk for amputation or renal disease.

Little is a professor of health management and system sciences at the University of Louisville. He said he’s created this kind of algorithm before for the United States Department of Veterans Affairs — the results of which have yet to be published, he said.

The Kentucky Medicaid program will pay half of the $950,000 for Little’s research, with the other half coming from U of L. Little said he’s excited to get started.

“I’ve been thinking about this ever since I arrived in Kentucky about three years ago,” Little said. This [Kentucky] is a great laboratory for helping improve health.”

Little said the average cost of hospitalizing a person because of complications with diabetes is about $62,000. He said with his predictive model, Kentucky will be able to create programs that better target specific diabetes patients and help make sure those patients get to doctor’s appointments and take medication.

“And so if you can avoid those hospitalizations by treating them several years before they develop those end-stage problems, you can increase their health and save money, which is a win-win,” he said.

There are about 450,000 people living with diabetes in Kentucky and Little said around 9,000 of them will develop end-stage complications. Not all of those people have Medicaid coverage, but Little said a disproportionate number do.

“We’re talking managing 9,000 patients out of the hundreds of thousands that are already being managed in one way or another,” Little said. “It’s not adding an undue burden of work. It’s really using existing resources in a wiser way.”

Little said he’ll use seven years of Medicaid data to build the model, and then give it to the state. He said it will take about two years to create.

The funds will also be used to look at where the state Medicaid program falls short in helping people with chronic conditions, and make recommendations on how Medicaid could better serve those patients, according to a news release.

Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.