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Using Data to Save a Life

Bobby McKeehan remembers the chilling words from his surgeon, words he realized he was fortunate to still be able to hear.

“The only time I see these is when the patient is dead,” the doctor said, staring at McKeehan’s CAT scan.

What the doctor saw was an aortic aneurysm, a tiny Grim Reaper hiding inside McKeehan. An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in the aorta, and often comes with no symptoms. You may not know you have one until it bursts. And when it bursts, it’s nearly always deadly.

“Why did you come to see me?” the doctor asked. “How did you know about this problem?”

“I didn’t know,” McKeehan replied. ”My insurance company said I was susceptible.”

Sophisticated data analysis is a large part of ActiveHealth, which offers leading-edge programs designed to provide personalized insights and resources

The diagnosis was a shock to McKeehan, a 66-year-old school bus driver who had never spent a night in the hospital. McKeehan didn’t know that his 40-year history of smoking and his age made him a prime candidate for an aneurysm.

But ActiveHealth’s patented CareEngine® System knew—testimony to the power of complex algorithms that mine data to identify opportunities to improve care for members. The CareEngine generated a “Care Consideration” letter to McKeehan suggesting he get screened for an aneurysm. His doctor also received the alert and immediately called him to come in for a visit.


It changed my outlook. If my doctors tell me to do something, I definitely do it. I’ve got a chance now.

So McKeehan made the 100-mile trip to Birmingham from his hometown of Fort Payne, Alabama—home of the country group Alabama—for a CAT scan that revealed an enlarged area in his abdomen. A vascular surgeon repaired a 7-centimeter aneurysm one morning. McKeehan went home after his first hospital stay, destined to continue carousing with his six grandchildren.

“Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that for a long time,” he says. “I was very lucky they found it in time.”

His life-saving surgery began with an algorithm in the ActiveHealth® CareEngine that sorts through the latest clinical knowledge and a patient’s data—health history, insurance claims, pharmacy and lab results—to alert members and their physicians to possible medical issues.

The CareEngine is just one of the services offered by ActiveHealth Management, an independent subsidiary of Aetna, which also boasts leading-edge care management, lifestyle and wellness programs—all designed to provide personalized insights and resources that help people get healthy and stay healthy.

Sophisticated data analysis is a large part of ActiveHealth. For physicians, it’s challenging to stay abreast of emerging research. Nicole Ryan, a clinical nursing director and part of the team working on CareEngine, said her team meets in New York almost daily to review the latest medical literature and the CareEngine algorithms to decide if changes are needed. When the American Heart Association revised its cholesterol guidelines for the use of statins, for example, the new recommendation was integrated into the CareEngine System to identify new high-risk patients.


“We are a team of clinicians that is constantly going through the literature seeing what’s new, getting the latest,” Ryan said.

The CareEngine is just one of the services offered by ActiveHealth Management, an independent subsidiary of Aetna, which also boasts leading-edge care management, lifestyle and wellness programs—all designed to provide personalized insights and resources that help people get healthy and stay healthy.

Sophisticated data analysis is a large part of ActiveHealth. For physicians, it’s challenging to stay abreast of emerging research. Nicole Ryan, a clinical nursing director and part of the team working on CareEngine, said her team meets in New York almost daily to review the latest medical literature and the CareEngine algorithms to decide if changes are needed. When the American Heart Association revised its cholesterol guidelines for the use of statins, for example, the new recommendation was integrated into the CareEngine System to identify new high-risk patients.

“We are a team of clinicians that is constantly going through the literature seeing what’s new, getting the latest,” Ryan said.

The CareEngine System can be the safety net for you and your doctor. It tracks when a member’s health history shows they are at risk for a condition and should be screened. It checks, for instance, whether diabetes patients are getting their recommended annual eye examinations. It alerts patients and doctors when two physicians are unknowingly prescribing conflicting drugs. It advises doctors when a patient may need to stop taking a drug because of a new condition, or when patients are not taking a drug that they should. There are a dozen categories of notices ranging from lifestyle modification suggestions to vaccination reminders.

The notices also prompt members to stay engaged with their health and wellness program and use the ActiveHealth web and mobile tools. McKeehan has participated in the Team Up for Health wellness program with an online coach since 2015. He takes his blood pressure and cholesterol medication. He goes to his annual wellness checkup.

“It changed by outlook. If my doctors tell me to do something I definitely do it,” McKeehan said. “My father died when he was 67 of a heart attack. I always said if I could live as long as my mother did to 83, I’d be happy.

“I’ve got a chance now.”

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