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Guest Post: Why American Medicine Needs A Moneyball Moment

By John Miner and Brad Stulberg
Students in the Masters in Health Services Administration program at the University of Michigan

John Miner

Brad Stulberg

With baseball season over and “Moneyball” exiting the box-office, we cannot help but wonder: When will American medicine have its Moneyball moment? The story of the Oakland A’s and their “do more with less” approach to baseball can serve as a model for American health care: Health care should start measuring and paying for value instead of simply paying for quantity.

Moneyball tells the fascinating story of how the Oakland A’s management team drastically departed from conventional wisdom in building a top baseball team. Rather than continue in the ways of an inefficient baseball marketplace — where value was neither appropriately measured nor paid for — the A’s developed a system that prioritized data-driven insights along with human judgment to construct their lineup.

While teams like the New York Yankees paid tens of millions for star players that “looked great” or had “beautiful swings,” the Oakland A’s fashioned a method to figure out what player attributes really drove outcomes (in this case, winning baseball games) and then paid players based on those attributes: value-based purchasing, if you will.

When compared to other developed countries, America is like the Yankees in terms of payroll — only without the 27 championships.

The A’s philosophy was in stark contrast to prevailing baseball culture. The franchise’s unconventional success rested upon a restricted budget (A’s ownership capped management spending at a hard amount), transformational leadership, and a change in mindsets and behaviors across the A’s clubhouse. The end result? Oakland, with a payroll two to three times smaller than top contenders, was able to compete with traditional powerhouses.

The analogy to health care is striking. Too often, health care dollars are disconnected from value; decisions are made based on precedent, anecdote, and preference rather than evidence; and new statistics and evidence-based measures are confronted with overwhelming disdain. (In fact, Billy Beane of the A’s has himself written about this parallel, in an op-ed piece with Newt Gingrich and John Kerry.) Continue reading