With each new partnership around data analytics, the health care field creeps a little closer to a future in which much of the clinical and operational guesswork of running a hospital or health system is eliminated.

In the latest example, the Illinois and Missouri hospital associations, representing some 370 institutions, recently inked a partnership to help push members toward value-based care more quickly. The two organizations are opening an innovation lab as a base for the venture, and they plan to gather data to assist hospitals with predicting future swerves in the market.

Maryjane Wurth, president and CEO of the Illinois Hospital Association, says member hospitals already were working together across state lines, and collaborating with the Missouri Hospital Association in a similar fashion made sense. The thirst in the industry for evidence is growing as more hospitals make the leap to value-based care.

"There's a real spotlight on performance and the need for valid, accurate data to help make decisions and ensure that we're measuring our progress with patient outcomes," she says. "The demand for evidence vs. concept is certainly there from the advocacy side, and we all need to be reacting to it."

The two hospital associations join a bevy of other big data partnerships, such as those between Catholic Health Initiatives and consulting firm Accenture, and between Intermountain Healthcare and Deloitte. About a year ago, Mayo Clinic and Optum, a division of UnitedHealth Group, partnered to share data for 115 million patients, and recently announced the addition of eight more organizations to the effort.

Paul Bleicher, M.D., CEO of the partnership, called Optum Labs, says reinventing the industry requires insight beyond just payers and providers. "There's a developing understanding that changing the health care system, and identifying the levers that can be pulled to improve it, are going to require a deep understanding of many aspects of the system, not just the scientific," he says. "The only way to really determine that is to analyze very large data sets that can give insight into diseases and the systems that manage them."

Steve Lefar, president and CEO of consulting firm Sg2, says such partnerships are leading to a new reality in which hospitals no longer settle debates based on gut feelings. The efforts will help leaders to make key business choices, such as whether to build a new faciltiy or how many doctors to hire.

"It's not just the buzzword of the day, hype of the future that we're hearing. The day-to-day decisions that people have been making for 30 years are now going to be made much more effectively," Lefar says. "It's practical, nuts-and-bolts kind of stuff that these data can be used as other businesses have been doing for years."

The collaborating hospital associations already have analyzed data for some 1,400 health care organizations across several states, and IHA also collaborates with BlueCross BlueShield of Illinois around readmissions data.

Herb Kuhn, MHA president and CEO, says they're open to further partnerships. "Everybody in this whole data world is in an era of discovery," he says. "The ultimate goal is to create enabling solutions for our member hospitals and others. Whatever helps us to achieve that goal, we're open for business, and we're ready to talk to anybody."