While it doesn't carry the same heft as the Qualcomm Tricorder X Prize, yesterday's news of a new big money contest may have a more immediate impact on advancing innovations in health care delivery.

The Bipartisan Policy Center, Heritage Provider Network and the Advisory Board unveiled the Care Transformation Prize Series, which is aimed at finding ways to help health care providers more effectively use big data.

"Over the next two years, this contest will inspire innovative solutions for health care organizations as they learn how to leverage large data, particularly clinical data sets, for reform efforts," Richard Merkin, M.D., president and CEO of HPN, said in a statement.

The concept is pretty simple: Health care organizations are invited to submit "their most challenging" questions that they would like solved by data analytics. Those submissions will be made public (absent identifiable information) and reviewed and ranked by a panel of judges. A team of "the best and brightest data scientists in the nation" will then tackle the questions. There's a total of $300,000 at stake for the teams to develop the best solutions.

"To be successful, providers need to access and analyze large electronic data sets, which are now becoming more available through investments in health IT," says BPC Health Innovation Initiative Director Janet Marchibroda. "This contest is an innovative way to create groundbreaking solutions to some of the toughest problems facing health care organizations today."

This isn't the first, and certainly won't be the last, effort to unleash the power of Big Data. Earlier this year, Mayo Clinic and Optum, a division of UnitedHealth Group, created Optum Labs, which is using data analytics to drive care innovation and lower costs.

As John Morrissey points out in our latest Connecting the Continuum article, data analytics is an essential element in transitioning to a new delivery model and building out an effective care continuum. "We're grappling with the same issues around data as anybody else," Adrian Rawlinson, M.D., director of medical informatics for Brown & Toland Physicians, told Morrissey. "Are we creating data for data's sake, or are we actually creating good, actionable data?"

The march toward population health and value-driven care will be short-lived if providers and others can't accomplish that goal. Rawlinson notes that the use of data analytics allows providers to "push a list to a primary care doc's office to say, 'Here's a list of patients 50 years and older who are overdue [for] a colonoscopy.' And then they would do whatever they want with that list." Brown & Toland can analyze the data to look at severity of illness scores, sort data by ZIP codes or patient financial status. It can rank patient risk factors. "All these things are now measurable," Rawlinson says.