PwC study spotlights key role for clinical informatics

By Mike Miliard
03:30 PM

A new report from PwC US Health Research Institute (HRI) shows how clinical informatics could be a crucial tool to fostering better population health and reducing healthcare costs.

Key to those benefits is for providers to use informatics to engage patients in managing their own health, the study found.

The report also suggests that health organizations view clinical informatics – the integration of information technology into healthcare – as paramount to their financial success and ability to effectively and affordably manage patient care and wellness.

[See also: Clinical informatics becomes a board-certified medical subspecialty.]

Nonetheless, few health organizations have found ways of using health information to engage patients in managing their own health. A recent PwC HRI survey of more than 600 health management professionals across the country found:

  • Only 15 percent of health insurers and 13 percent of hospitals, physicians groups and other providers believe they've been able to influence patient behavior through their informatics efforts.
  • Nearly eight in 10 providers (79 percent) are looking to clinical informatics to help reduce medical errors, 61 percent hope to use it to improve population health, and 52 percent hope it will help them reduce costs by involving patients in preventative care routines.
  • Eighty-five percent of payers are counting on clinical informatics to improve management of complex cases such as care for patients diagnosed with cancer, 80 percent are seeking a reduction in preventable emergency room visits and hospital readmission rates, and 56 percent hope clinical informatics findings will lead to earlier diagnosis and prevention.

The HRI report, "Needles in a haystack: Seeking knowledge with clinical informatics," looks at the state of clinical informatics in the industry and the needs, goals, barriers and opportunities that health organizations face in expanding their informatics capabilities. PwC US surveyed health management professionals from hospitals and physician groups, health insurers, pharmaceutical companies and life sciences companies.

[See also: PwC predicts top 10 issues in 'seminal year' for healthcare.]

All the organizations surveyed by PwC are now focused on clinical informatics capabilities – a nascent, fast-growing field that combines technology, patient care, financial reporting and collaborative information-sharing. While organizations have different needs and expectations for their informatics programs, the one common informatics goal PwC found they all share is a better understanding of medication compliance. Billions of dollars a year in wasteful healthcare spending can be attributed to excess hospitalizations, premature deaths and other avoidable expenditures caused by patients who do not take medications as prescribed.

Among other findings from the PwC survey:

  • Nearly 60 percent of providers and 91 percent of payers said improving patient compliance and adherence to prescribed medication is a goal of their clinical informatics program over the next two years. 
  • Nearly three-quarters (71 percent) of pharmaceutical companies believe that access to information in electronic health records could help them better understand what factors lead to noncompliance as well as the factors affecting the safety and efficacy of patients' drug usage.

"Health organizations recognize the value of effective informatics and analytics, but they are struggling to institutionalize the insight, make it actionable and use it for competitive advantage," said Daniel Garrett, Health IT practice leader at PwC. "They need strategies for mining data, conducting and integrating evidence-based research, translating findings into practice, and influencing patients to participate in the process."

Read more from "Needles in a haystack" here.