Actuaries Go to Medical School

by Sara Teppema, SOA Staff Fellow, Health

SaraTeppema It’s complicated.

Health care, that is.  Of course all of us know this, and we actuaries who practice in health care observe it every day as we assess health risks and work with health care financial, claims and utilization data.

This past November, at the SOA Health Boot Camp, 75 of us went beyond the data to begin to understand the intricate human systems – literally down to the molecular level – that drive health care costs and utilization for two high-cost conditions:  diabetes and asthma. 

The SOA hosted a course called “Medical School for Actuaries,” developed and taught by Dr. Joel Shalowitz, Director of the Health Industry  Management Program at the Kellogg School of Business as well as a Professor of Medicine and of Preventive Medicine  at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine. 

The idea for Med School grew out of market research, which showed that in order to be more relevant in the health industry (beyond just the traditional areas of pricing, reserving and financial projections), most actuaries need deeper knowledge on the clinical side of health care.  Development of the curriculum for the half-day Med School was sponsored by funding from the Untapped Opportunities Strategic Initiative.  Dr. Shalowitz was our natural choice to assist with the course content, since he has worked with actuaries many times in the past. 

The course spent the majority of the time on diabetes, which is predicted to affect 39 million adults in the United States by the end of this decade (15 percent of the adult population!)1 and has a prevalence growing at alarming rate as more children are becoming diagnosed with Type II diabetes, prompted by diet and overweight.  With Dr. Shalowitz repeating the mantra “it’s complicated,” the class was led through the various systems of the human body and how they are affected by diabetes.  As actuaries we are used to Powerpoint slides full of numbers and charts, but we adjusted our insight to organs and cellular diagrams.  The asthma portion of the class was shorter, and slightly less complicated, but no less interesting.

We hope to repeat Med School at the SOA Health Meeting in June 2011.  Based on the overwhelmingly positive feedback from our Boot Camp session, we will continue to offer modules for diabetes and asthma, and possibly add additional disease states. 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we can make the clinical side of health care a little less complicated for actuaries.  Please contact me at steppema@soa.org or comment on this blog!

1 http://www.unitedhealthgroup.com/hrm/UNH_WorkingPaper5.pdf

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