Nuna: Tackling U.S. healthcare costs and quality challenges with serverless analytics

About Nuna

Nuna provides healthcare data and analytics solutions for Medicaid and Medicare, self-insured employers, health plans, and provider systems.

Industries: Healthcare & Life Sciences
Location: United States
Products: BigQuery

Analyzing big data from healthcare payers and providers takes an enterprise-class data warehouse. To serve larger customers and return queries up to 10x faster, Nuna switched to Google BigQuery for serverless analytics.

Google Cloud Results

  • Reduces costs by 30x with Google BigQuery on-demand pricing compared to previous self-managed solution
  • Enables Nuna to take on new, larger clients and datasets
  • Helps Nuna build more engaging, flexible, and insightful analytic user interfaces by improving speed and reducing error rate
  • Simplifies security and compliance and provides better data isolation

Returns queries up to 10x faster

It’s no secret that the United States has a healthcare spending problem, devoting far more of its gross domestic product to healthcare than other nations. Nuna, a San Francisco-based data and analytics company, is helping to address this problem by aggregating and analyzing healthcare data to support better decision-making. Partnering with health plans, employers, government organizations, and healthcare providers, Nuna is helping to solve hard data problems that stand in the way of higher quality, more affordable care for everyone.

To answer the complex questions that its large enterprise clients are asking, Nuna needs a robust and scalable data warehouse. Nuna tried using an open source distributed SQL query engine on top of a popular Hadoop-based cloud service for processing. However, maintaining the infrastructure was expensive; data isolation was not well supported; and queries were too slow. When the data warehouse became overloaded it would drop queries, resulting in a 2% error rate.

As Nuna prepared to onboard an important new client—a large employer—it needed a solution that could quickly return bursts of queries to power a front-end analytics dashboard. The employer would then use that information to make decisions about health insurance benefits, wellness programs, and communications that could have a positive impact on employee health.

“We couldn’t meet that client’s need with our existing technology, and we knew we would have similar needs in the future,” says Sam King, Engineering Manager for Nuna’s Data Platform Engineering Team. “It was time to move our data warehouse to a better performing, more secure solution.”

“As soon as we started using Google BigQuery, we saw a 2x to 10x reduction in query times, and our error rate returned to zero because we were no longer dropping queries.”

Sam King, Engineering Manager, Data Platform Engineering Team, Nuna

Up to 10x faster queries

After closely comparing several open source and hosted options to replace its query layer, Nuna decided to use Google BigQuery as a cloud-based data warehouse. The decision was based on stability, security, performance, scalability, support, value, and Google BigQuery integration with Nuna’s preferred business intelligence visualization tool, Looker, which the company uses to make dashboards available to clients for data-driven decision-making.

It took only two weeks for Nuna to complete a proof of concept and another two weeks to migrate all of its SQL to Google BigQuery, allowing Nuna to deliver on time for its new client.

“As soon as we started using Google BigQuery, we saw a 2x to 10x reduction in query times, and our error rate returned to zero because we were no longer dropping queries,” says Sam. “I’m very happy that we decided to switch to Google BigQuery for our data warehouse.”

With Google BigQuery powering Nuna’s analytics services, clients can better understand how their members are accessing care and track trends in healthcare metrics. They can also assess the effectiveness of disease management and wellness programs.

“Google approaches security and compliance in a very comprehensive, principled way, which gives us a lot of confidence that we will be covered if we choose to expand our use of Google Cloud services beyond Google BigQuery.”

Sam King, Engineering Manager, Data Platform Engineering Team, Nuna

Simplifying security and compliance

With Google BigQuery, data is encrypted at rest by default, giving Nuna’s engineers peace of mind about security.

“With our self-managed service, rather than just configuring things once, we had to jump through hoops and remember to pass a flag to enable encryption every time we wrote a file,” says Sam. “With Google BigQuery and Google Cloud Platform, security and compliance are correct by default. We don’t have to do anything fancy. It just works.”

Operating in the healthcare industry and handling protected health information (PHI) means Nuna must comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and other regulations. Nuna was happy to learn that Google BigQuery supports HIPAA compliance under a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) and is one of many Google Cloud Platform (GCP) services that are compliant with the U.S. Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP).

“Google approaches security and compliance in a very comprehensive, principled way, which gives us a lot of confidence that we will be covered if we choose to expand our use of Google Cloud services beyond Google BigQuery,” says Sam.

“The decisions our clients are making deeply affect the healthcare experience of their members and their families. With Google BigQuery, we’re helping turn data into insights to make that care more affordable, better quality, and easier to access.”

Sam King, Engineering Manager, Data Platform Engineering Team, Nuna

Keeping customer data isolated

Of specific concern to Nuna is the ability to keep customer data separated at all times, even if multiple customers’ data is hosted on the same virtual machine or used for internal purposes. GCP isolates each customer’s resources into “projects,” making it easy to keep customer data segregated.

“The overall permission scheme and security architecture behind GCP is great in terms of project isolation,” says Sam. “If we wanted the same level of data isolation with our other cloud provider, we would need to create a bunch of separate accounts or build a solution ourselves.”

Reducing data warehousing costs 30x

Previously, Nuna often kept its Hadoop infrastructure running 24x7, just in case someone needed to use it off-hours. With Google BigQuery serverless architecture, Nuna doesn’t have to overprovision or worry about infrastructure—it simply asks questions when its customers need answers, paying by the query.

“Many of the other approaches we looked at for cloud data warehousing would have required us to pay the infrastructure costs ourselves,” says Sam. “With Google BigQuery, compute and storage costs are separated and we pay only for what we use, reducing our overall costs by 30x.”

Better decisions with data

Google BigQuery is helping Nuna achieve its mission of using data to drive positive change in the U.S. healthcare marketplace by providing faster, more accurate insights.

“The decisions our clients are making deeply affect the healthcare experience of their members and their families,” says Sam. “With Google BigQuery, we’re helping turn data into insights to make that care more affordable, better quality, and easier to access.”

About Nuna

Nuna provides healthcare data and analytics solutions for Medicaid and Medicare, self-insured employers, health plans, and provider systems.

Industries: Healthcare & Life Sciences
Location: United States
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