Data Analytics and Cognitive Computing Will Transform Healthcare in 2016 and Beyond

Guest post by Steve Tolle, chief strategy officer, Merge Healthcare, an IBM Company.

Steve Tolle
Steve Tolle

The volume of health-related data available to physicians and other healthcare providers from disparate sources is staggering and continues to grow. In fact, a 2014 University of Iowa, Carver College of Medicine report projects that the availability of medical data will double every 73 days by 2020. Such data overload can make it difficult for clinicians to keep up with best practices and innovations.

Perhaps because imaging is so pervasive in healthcare, the medical imaging field has turned to data analytics and cognitive computing to help clinicians use large volumes of data in a meaningful way. These decision-support tools help them manage data to improve patient care and deliver value to referring physicians and payers.

At RSNA15, the crowds packed presentations on data analytics and cognitive computing and flocked to vendor exhibits featuring these decision-support tools — indicators of their expanding role in healthcare. In years past, exhibit space was primarily devoted to showcasing new imaging modalities.

Interest in analytics is growing rapidly as the U.S. health system transitions from volume- to value-based payment models — models that challenge physicians involved in medical imaging to demonstrate value. Physicians are under pressure to deliver educated, accurate, useful and efficient interpretations even as imaging studies become increasingly large in size and complex in scope. And these physicians are expected to communicate this information quickly and in a user-friendly manner. As a result, clinicians are turning to analytics-based solutions to boost efficiency and enhance the quality of their service to help them deliver the value demanded by payers, referring physicians and patients.

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Getting to Meaningful Use Stage 2 and Beyond

Michael Simpson
Michael Simpson

Guest post by Michael Simpson is the CEO of Caradigm.

It’s been five years since the HITECH Act was enacted as part of ARRA, and while there’s still a lot of debate about the technical details, rules and timelines involved with electronic health record (EHR) adoption and meaningful use, it’s clear that the focus on EHRs – and incenting hospitals and professionals to use EHRs in a meaningful way – represents a critical, foundational step in transforming health care in this country.

After all, meaningful use targets the right goals – goals that every hospital, health system and healthcare professional supports, including improved quality, safety and efficiency of care; reduced disparities; more engaged patients and families as core members of the care team; improved care coordination and population health; and more secure patient health information.

More important, the stages of meaningful use drive a set of progressively more advanced capabilities that are fundamental to achieving those goals. Digitizing data was the first critical step, and the good news is that according to a recent HHS press release, about 60 percent of all hospitals have adopted an advanced EHR, leaving the paper world behind. The next steps are sharing that data – securely – among providers and patients, reporting on quality to understand and improve it, using clinical decision support at the point of care, and many other capabilities critical to transforming care and outcomes. If providers and professionals meet meaningful use requirements, we should see more transparency, greater efficiency, reduced waste and more healthy people in our communities over time.

Stage 2 Challenges

It’s a long and challenging journey, and while hospitals and health systems are making good progress against Stage 1 requirements, very few are prepared for Stage 2. In fact, according to survey data from the American Hospital Association, fewer than 6 percent of hospitals have met the criteria for Stage 2, and only 10 percent have met the requirement for patients to be able to view, download and transmit their health information online.

Why are providers getting stuck as they try to move to Stage 2? Because as the requirements become more demanding – e.g., using clinical decision support, generating patient lists, protecting patient health information, engaging patients – these organizations need a new set of technology capabilities to meet those requirements.  These capabilities leverage and extend the functionality and benefits of the EHR.

Moreover, to reach the ultimate goals targeted by Meaningful Use — improved quality, efficiency, outcomes and population health — providers will need to aim even higher than meeting the requirements of meaningful use stages, strategically using data from EHRs and myriad other systems across the care continuum to enable a new level of capabilities.

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The Future of Healthcare is Outside Healthcare

Guest post by Nilesh Chandra and Nick Mathisen, healthcare experts at PA Consulting.

Nilesh Chandra
Nilesh Chandra

Healthcare as an industry is undergoing rapid, fundamental changes brought about by reform. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 turned the incentive system upside down for healthcare providers, moving them from fee-for-service payments to Accountable Care Models. Providers who previously made money by separately charging for each procedure and bore little financial risk for patient health, now get paid a single bundled amount for providing care for a group of people, with incentives to reduce the total cost of care and share in those savings. Taking a cue from Medicare and Medicaid, private health insurers are increasingly adopting similar payment models.

The challenges today

Nick Mathisen
Nick Mathisen

Doctors and nurses who had the responsibility to help sick people get better, are now expected to keep people healthy. Hospital administrators who were measured on financial metrics like bed utilization are now expected to keep people out of hospitals. Traditional healthcare involved dealing with sick people who came in to hospitals and clinics. Tomorrow, healthcare will be about proactively engaging with healthy people and encouraging them to adopt behaviors that keep them healthy. This will involve outreach and engagement in entirely new ways that the modern healthcare industry has not done before.

The future of healthcare

The future of healthcare is outside the boundaries of what our modern healthcare industry knows how to do.

Think about it. Many industries are facing disruptive innovation where the future of the industry is completely different from what has been the norm. For example, the PC industry with the rapid shift to tablets, or retail with the increasing move to online channels. However, both of those industries have always been subject to rapid innovation and players have learned to evolve rapidly. The transformation in healthcare is more profound because it is larger in scale and it has a much greater impact on people’s lives.

So what does the future of healthcare involve and how can technology help? There are three key elements that the healthcare industry has to learn to be more efficient and proactive:

Caring for the chronically sick more efficiently with wearables

The rate of diabetes, heart conditions, obesity and other chronic conditions are projected to continually rise. The chronically ill consume a large proportion of healthcare, therefore any efficiency gained in providing care for them translates into significant savings in the overall health system. A recent study from Robert Wood Johnson University hospital found that 80 percent of all heart-attacks could have been prevented by simple changes in lifestyle. Changes in lifestyle will have a similar positive impact on other chronic conditions as well.

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From Data, to Knowledge to Action: Leveraging Clinical Analytics to Impact Patient Outcomes

Thomas Van Gilder
Thomas Van Gilder

Guest post by Thomas J. Van Gilder, MD, JD, MPH.

Electronic health record (EHR) technology has become truly transformative for the healthcare industry; prepared or not, healthcare teams are increasingly relying on new information technologies to improve the delivery and management of care. EHRs have enabled faster and easier access to patient information, and hold the promises of improved workflows, efficient sharing of information across communities and reduced costs for many physicians and hospitals.

But now that nearly 80 percent of physician practices in the U.S. today have EHR systems in place and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services’ (CMS) meaningful use program is well underway, it is time to look to the next stage of health care technology and innovation. Health care teams must now move beyond the first step of digitizing patient records to transforming this valuable data into meaningful and actionable knowledge that will help care teams make more informed decisions at the point of care and ultimately, improve outcomes.

For this impact to take place at both the individual level and at the population level, care teams need to leverage clinical analytics that will provide visibility into important clinical trends across the entire population. For example, being able to review trends in diabetes care or readmission rates across a population represents an opportunity for specific, meaningful change to improve care delivery and outcomes.

For a practicing clinician, “population health management” means being able to see where an individual patient is within the clinician’s or clinic’s population (e.g., whether the individual’s chronic condition is above or below population benchmarks) and to take action at the point of care, as well as being able to refer to relevant population health metrics.

For a patient, clinical analytics presumes trust, not only in the competency and care of the physician, but also in the security of his or her information. Population health management and analytics tools must ensure that patient information can be gathered, stored, and used in a way that is demonstrably secure.

Care teams should consider four key elements when exploring clinical analytics tools for population health management:

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