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Commentary: Big data and analytics to propel population health at HIMSS16

The healthcare industry is awash in data. But how can we best turn it into actionable information?
By Brian Ahier
10:28 AM

HIMSS16 is shaping up to be another awesome event. In the run-up to HIMSS15 last year, I wrote about population health management, which turned out to be one of the hottest topics with a great deal of discussion throughout the conference and afterward. This year, I see quite a bit of excitement heading into Las Vegas around data management that will enable population health efforts to succeed, including big data and analytics.

There are going to be loads of new solutions demonstrated in the exhibit hall as well as sessions focused on these topics. I expect much dialog and examination of how healthcare stands to benefit from several major developments in data management – including data collection through electronic health records, data sharing through health information exchanges (HIEs) and improved data analytics thanks to enterprise data warehouses and new analytical tools.

Fifteen years ago, Doug Laney introduced the 3 Vs to define big data: volume, velocity and variety. One could add a few more, such as variability and veracity.

See all of our HIMSS16 previews

There are certainly large volumes of data being generated in healthcare today, primarily through electronic health records (EHRs) and HIEs. Add to these sets the fitness data generated by wearable devices and the claims as well as the administrative data generated by health plans, and the industry is awash in information.

But what will we do with all these data to actually move the needle to improving care, health and control costs?

After all, some providers are still struggling to optimize their EHRs and workflow. Yet many have begun to connect to other stakeholders for health information exchange, and some leading-edge organizations are already leveraging shared information for meaningful population health management. The trick is to take these data and use them to glean information that will provide meaningful insights. This is where powerful analytics tools can have an impact. Be sure to check out all of the solutions in the Exhibit Hall because we are now seeing some powerful tools come to market.

Indeed, software products for improved healthcare analytics are increasingly essential, providing the insight needed to deliver improved member outcomes, higher quality of care and better management decisions. The population within any health plan consists of diverse groups of people who may be at any point along the health and wellness continuum, with some moving toward greater risk. Plans will want to identify those at risk for coronary artery disease, diabetes and other conditions, and those who could benefit most from additional screenings, weight management or smoking cessation programs. Without data, health plans have to wait and see who requires care coordination, and that may very well make it too late to have a meaningful impact. That’s just a start. Health plans and providers can further leverage data analytics to understand what motivates people and how to change behavior and, in turn, improve health of patients and populations alike.

[Also: 21 awesome photos from past HIMSS conferences]

I also anticipate great insight at HIMSS16 into standards and regulations as CMS continues its push away from fee-for-service and toward value-based care and alternative payment models. Administration officials will be in full force at HIMSS16; HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell is scheduled to give a keynote address, and there will be a special ONC and CMS session where CMS Acting Administrator Andy Slavitt and National Coordinator Karen DeSalvo, MD will share the changes underway from a standards and regulatory standpoint. DeSalvo will also discuss the ONC’s interoperability roadmap and provide her viewpoint on the intersection between the regulatory environment and the private market. CMS experts will host a special session to provide insight into the evolving role and requirements of the EHR Incentive Programs from now until 2017. In a separate listening session, you can hear about changes to Meaningful Use in 2018 and beyond as implementation begins for the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS).

At last year’s HIMSS conference in Chicago, “population health” was the buzzword, and it seemed every vendor was claiming to have solutions for population health challenges. This year the market will have matured somewhat, and we can begin to peel back the covers and see the tools that will truly enable improved population health, better care and lower costs.

I’ve written about the data analytics hype cycle, and it would seem we have moved further along the graph. But despite the progress made, we're really just beginning to have the necessary analytics capabilities that enable system-wide quality improvement and cost reduction. There is a lot of talk about “big data” and “analytics,” and I’m not sure these concepts mean the same thing to everyone.

What do big data and analytics mean to you and your organization?

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