Big data 'long-way' from being harnessed for population health

Majority of hospitals are investing in population health, but 'lack the training' to fully integrate analytics
By Jessica Davis
11:01 AM
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As they look to population health management, nearly two-thirds of hospitals and healthcare systems and have adopted remote patient monitoring and analytics into their care processes, but there's a long journey ahead before many get their strategies down.

"The initiatives have yet to be defined, as it's a departure on how physicians and care teams have been trained in the past," Gregg Malkary, managing director of the Spyglass Consulting Group, tells Healthcare IT News.

[See also: What exactly is 'population health,' anyway?]

Physicians often lack the training to account for the right ways to access data. But they're headed in the right direction.

The results of the Spyglass study revealed 84 percent of providers are investing in remote patient monitoring solutions to support patients after hospital discharge, with 79 percent of providers using analytics and big data to support population health.

Furthermore, the report shows these organization are interested in BYOD options for their clinicians and other mobile technologies to support chronically-ill patients.

But the big question for these providers is determining how to most effectively and reliably integrate this information in their clinical workflows.

"Analytics provides a huge opportunity, but we lack the data science and medical algorithms," Malkary says. "We don't really know how to translate certain data because medical science is immature."

[See also: Big data holds keys to population health]

He adds: "We aren't able to make decisions based on the data."

The majority of health institutions have population health initiatives, with many focusing on ways to support chronic health patients recently released from the hospital, Malkary says. With the transition into pay-for-performance care, institutions are recognizing the need to reduce readmissions and increase patient engagement.

Mobile technology and other devices provide a way to engage patients on their level and open the door to a new level of care.

"Healthcare providers, with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, are rapidly consolidating into larger integrated delivery networks and transitioning toward various at-risk payment and care delivery models," Malkary noted in a press release announcing the report findings.

"RPM solutions have been identified as an important early symptom management tool for patients considered at greatest risk for re‐hospitalization," he continued.

Malkary tells Healthcare IT News that many institutions are particularly looking to use tablets in their chronic health treatment procedures, as even the elderly use these mobile technologies for all areas of their life, which are ideal for health purposes and patient engagement.

The majority of organizations see wearables as a health management platform - a means to identify vital signs and fill in gaps missing from in-office evaluations, like diet, activity levels and sleep patterns, he adds.

But "nothing is going to work if the patient is not active," he says, "The patient engagement portion is huge; if they're not compliant, they're going to keep being admitted."

[See also: 5 hurdles en route to population health]

Mobile technology could hold the key, but the challenge is driving patient engagement, Malkary says: "We need an engagement platform to activate patient in care process."

While population health is a logical step, hospitals need to look at the broader picture: outcomes and quality.

"There's the opportunity: Right now, big data and analytics is being used to see risk, but we need to expand to see where it fits into healthcare," Malkary says. "Many organizations are still struggling to find a place for it and are still in the early stages of integration. Some organizations have done some positive work, but we're a long way from harnessing big data.