Reality check: Population health on today's IT

Healthcare organizations need tools for analytics, care coordination, telehealth – and patient engagement. And those must be integrated to arm doctors with data and insights they can use to focus on the art of medicine. 
By Tom Sullivan
01:09 PM
Population health

CHICAGO — Hospitals and health systems need to equip doctors with advanced technologies that make them more effective caregivers for population health management programs to gain widespread purchase.

“The technology aspect of population health is confusing,” Shelley Price, director of Payer and Life Sciences at HIMSS, said today at the HIMSS Pop Health Forum 2016.

IT must be able to support care teams with analytics, care coordination and patient engagement tools, just as a start, according to Adrian Zai, MD, clinical director of Population Informatics at Massachusetts General Hospital Partners Healthcare.

Rishi Sikka, MD, senior vice president of transformation at Advocate Health Care added telehealth tools and smartphone apps to that list.

“All of those have to be fully integrated,” Zai said. “You have to have all these systems working together.”

Putting that into practice, however, is challenging.

“It is really evident very quickly the degree of integration a system has or doesn’t have,” said Larry Burnett, a principal in consultancy KPMG’s Health Solutions practice.

 More articles from the Pop Health Forum 2016 in Chicago: 
⇒ Triple Aim alone will never bend the cost curve
⇒ Healthcare providers chasing bright, shiny population health objects, expert says
⇒ Population health is here, but can the care delivery system keep up? 

Indeed, successfully integrating these and other technologies is a foundation for arming doctors with the tools they need to better care for patients — which experts said is not happening as widely today as it must for population health management programs to thrive.

“We don’t use technology in a way that augments providers, rather we use tech in a way that drags them down,” said Michael Dulin, MD, director of the Academy of Population Health at the University of North Carolina Charlotte.

Instead of harnessing the benefits of software, for instance, many hospitals redesign their care around an EHR and, in so doing, disengage providers.

Dulin suggested employing  the traditional software development approach: pilot new technologies, collect feedback, build the product to be as nimble as possible and explain what you’re doing before rolling it out across multiple departments.

One example Dulin pointed to as ripe for technological improvement is algorithms that tell doctors what to do with any patient on a given day, such as what tests to run, what medications to give and other data pieces that software could deliver.

“That’s not the art of medicine,” Dulin said. “An algorithm can do that easily.” 

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