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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Interoperability Will Become Universal: Is Your Organization Prepared?

Guest post by Steve Tolle, chief strategy officer and president of iConnect Network Services, Merge Healthcare.

Steve Tolle
Steve Tolle

Sooner than later, payers will demand meaningful interoperability to determine the true cost of quality healthcare outcomes. While they may not have a preference for which electronic health record (EHR) platform a doctor or health system uses, they will understand that a platform’s ability to communicate with other EHR platforms will affect the cost and quality of the care provided.

Payers are already implementing bundled payments for some types of costly care, such as full hip replacements. Conventional assumptions aside, physician fees and facility charges are not the leading drivers of joint replacement cost variability. Instead, wide cost disparities frequently seen between Joint Replacement Procedure A and Joint Replacement Procedure B are the product of unpredictable charges for supplies, anesthesia, and medical imaging. When payers start bundling reimbursements for common procedures, risk will shift to providers who will be challenged to closely manage cost fluctuations. In preparation for this transition, healthcare organizations must proactively assess their imaging strategies to keep their business running smoothly, continue providing quality patient care, and ensure they maximize revenue for the services they deliver.

What Providers Must Evaluate

Medical imaging is a $100 billion industry that drives $300 billion in healthcare spending. It accounts for nearly eight percent of U.S. healthcare spending, according to the Journal of the American College of Radiology — a costly component of care that must be effectively addressed as the industry readies itself for the shift from volume to value-based reimbursement.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently set an ambitious goal that by 2016, 85 percent of healthcare payments will be tied to quality and value of care. Successful healthcare organizations will need to manage two key factors closely — appropriateness and efficiency.

CMS and private payers will increase their vigilance around quality measures such as readmission rates and unnecessary diagnostic imaging. Medically unnecessary or redundant imaging is already on Medicare’s radar, showing up in legislation that mandated decision support for imaging and extended the deadline for ICD-10 conversion. If providers begin to correct course now, downstream risk of lost revenue and decreased patient satisfaction can be mitigated, if not avoided.

Take Stock of Current Assets      

To stay ahead of the curve, providers should evaluate all aspects of their image management programs. Many are looking for new solutions that simplify and digitize outdated, paper-based procedures for patient orders, automate insurance payment authorization, and move images from point A to point B in real time, regardless of file format.

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