Data holds key to unlocking population health

Strategies for smarter analytics as healthcare moves into new era
By Mike Miliard
02:24 PM
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Healthcare is at a pivotal moment – one unlike any before – where troves of data are now available at our fingertips, helping to inform more effective and efficient care.

"No longer is the data storage repository in healthcare the doctor's brain," said Paul Grundy, MD, founding president of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative and IBM’s Director of Global Healthcare Transformation.

Grundy delivered the opening keynote of the day-long Clinical & Business Intelligence Symposium at HIMSS15 on Sunday, which explored the ways patient and claims data are being put to work driving efficiencies and improving care for populations.

Known as the "godfather of the patient-centered medical home," Grundy made the case that unsustainable costs and unacceptable patient safety numbers ("we lose two 747 planeloads of people a day in this country because of medical errors") mean it's imperative to start putting electronic health records to work on a wide scale.

"For the first time, we really have data," he said. "We tried this before, with HMOs, without data, and it wasn't too successful. Now we're moving into a whole new era."

Arriving at this new paradigm of proactive, team-based care, where populations are managed down to the individual level, is not just a matter of slapping analytics on EHR data. It requires careful strategizing and cultural change.

But the "pendulum is just barely moving right now" on new approaches to value-based care, said Claudia Blackburn, senior manager at Aspen Advisors, adding that change is coming, and it's not optional.

Blackburn laid out six core competencies for population health programs: member engagement; operation performance management and business intelligence; cross-continuum care delivery; accounting; quality outcomes reporting, and integration and infrastructure.

Those are all complex and sometimes contentious projects. Having a strategy is critical. Too often, organizations start with the IT, "but they don't know what their business plan is," she said. "Once you know your population, and you have a plan, and you know how you're going to pay for it, you can put it all together" with technology.

Tim Miksch, IT Section Head at the Mayo Clinic, discussed that system's approach to population health analytics. As Mayo works to define, assess, stratify, engage and manage high-risk patients, its clinicians are realizing that cultural factors are hugely important.

"It's about partnering with patients – how do you get them to behave in a different way?" he said. It's about "(making) sure what we're doing can be measured and monitored." It's about ensuring budgets are in line with operational goals: "You can't have a mission unless you have the money to help support it."

It's also about changing some ingrained ways of doing things – something physicians don't always appreciate: "Data is key, but unless you can integrate it in the workflow, it doesn't matter," said Miksch.