2012 predictions: 3 data-centric HIT game changers

By Lorraine Fernandes
11:26 AM
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As 2011 draws to a close, the healthcare industry reflects upon a year that saw a number of interesting developments, from Meaningful Use becoming a reality to the activities that will advance ICD-10, ACOs and HIEs. While we have yet to see what new challenges 2012 will bring, one thing is undeniable – the journey toward healthcare reform will continue to be top of mind.

To date, the use of technology has allowed us to tackle some of the most pressing issues in healthcare. Patient records are being transformed for the digital era, and individuals can remotely consult with doctors, nurses and specialists from hundreds of miles away. But new obstacles are cropping up daily, and factors such as an aging population and an explosion in the sheer volume and varieties of patient data are presenting new and increasingly complex challenges for the healthcare system. Reaping the benefits of the investments must be top of mind if we are to healthcare better and more cost-effective.

[Related: A look at how Maine's HIE is turning grant money into actionable outcomes data.]

Technology offers the best advantage for addressing the evolving needs of the healthcare space. Real progress in healthcare reform will only be possible with continued innovation, and there are several emerging trends and approaches in health IT that are poised to vastly improve how the healthcare system operates. In 2012, I believe governments, providers, and consumers can anticipate that they will be hearing much more about the following:

1. Consistent, real-time information and interoperability will prove indispensible for chronic disease management. The advancing age of the baby boom generation is bringing with it a new set of patient care challenges to address – most pressing being the rise of chronic disease. Managing this uptick in chronic illness is encroaching upon government and employer healthcare budgets, not to mention burdening patients’ wallets.

To help reduce costs associated with providing healthcare in the long term, organizations need to invest in technologies now that foster comprehensive and real-time views of patient and provider information from both public and private facilities. Improving information exchange processes is critical in streamlining care coordination, and establishing interoperability among healthcare IT infrastructures is of paramount importance to offer patients and providers with the most current and accurate data available. Progress has been made on this front, but not enough focus has been put on the issue of chronic disease and the aging population.

The benefits of care coordination in managing chronic disease are tremendous – it helps reduce risk of repeat or unnecessary services, ensures the most appropriate treatments with minimal waiting time, improves compliance with medication programs and drives down the overall cost of care. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in 2012 from the efforts of the new Accountable Care Organizations, who are working to demonstrate the value and impact of coordinated care.

2. Analytics will be a game changer in improving patient care. Organizations are not only turning to analytics to improve efficiency, they’re also using the technology to improve clinical outcomes, predict disease, and identify patient and medical trends. With the use of tools that provide a deeper, more intelligent understanding of data, organizations can obtain a more accurate view of the patient and, in turn, identify and predict the likelihood of certain conditions.

Additionally, comparative effectiveness research (CER) is one area of analytics that will continue to receive significant attention in 2012. Admittedly, it is a controversial topic in some circles, but this research must be conducted to guide us in transforming healthcare. By collecting large amounts of de-identified patient medical data, CER programs will enable the analysis of variations in medical conditions or treatments to determine the most effective treatments based upon quality, effectiveness, outcome and cost. With proper implementation, these programs have the potential to provide the entire U.S. healthcare system with cost reductions, quality of care improvements and establish proven best practices.

3. A clinical hub will help redefine how patient data is accessed and applied to treatment through quality improvement activities and research. Healthcare providers have terabytes of data about millions of patients, stored across numerous systems. This clinical data, like any other data, is rooted in facts and figures – and something we rarely look beyond when studying patients. However, new solutions are allowing healthcare providers and researchers to look at patients from an entirely new perspective.

Clinical similarity technology was initially developed to enhance research, by helping to quickly select patients for clinical trials, enhance data quality, and improve the effectiveness of research. Clinical hubs that use the similarity technology offer a different approach to providing analytical solutions for clinical trials, coding error and patient routing analysis, comparative effectiveness research and rare event analysis. A clinical hub leverages patient demographic data and actual clinical data and groups “like” patients based upon information such as diagnoses, medications and lab results. Using advanced algorithms to group similar patients, the analysis and resulting intelligence from such queries can enable care providers to better support clinical decisions and case management – from more informed treatment plans, to identifying potential risk for other diseases and designing predictive treatment plans. The flexibility of this approach means it can be used in an identifiable fashion, or in a limited data set. Plus, it can be augmented with other technology to create a true de-identified data set.

[Q&A: Tapping the NwHIN protocols as a bridge between public and private healthcare.]

Clinical hubs will have a number of short-term advantages, from decreasing the time to define the appropriate study group to enhancing research results to minimizing improper payments. The ultimate advantage, however, is the predictability that can come from having access to this perspective. Ultimately, the ability to provide more precision treatment will not only improve patient outcomes but also lower the cost of care.

This is just a snapshot of what we can expect to hear more about in 2012. What other healthcare technologies do you think will gain traction in the New Year?