Data Sharing Improves Patient Care, Efficiency

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By Tom Peterson

Everyone collects it, but no one is precisely sure who owns it.  Everyone wants it, but sharing is fraught with obstacles. Everyone acknowledges its relevance, but as an industry we’ve yet to truly capitalize on its full potential. 

The issue is data and how it is gathered, analyzed, shared and maximized is one of the most important topics engulfing healthcare today. Physicians, insurers and patients themselves all have a vested interest in using data properly to make sure that the system works as efficiently and effectively as it can. Collected and shared appropriately, data impacts quality of care, patient’s health, physician income, STAR ratings and patient retention. In this there is no argument. 

While there is agreement in the value of data, challenges to make it as accessible and actionable as it should be continue to plague the industry. That’s because healthcare, as a whole, has never embraced one universally accepted way to collect and communicate data among everyone who could benefit from its power. Medical groups, individual physicians, hospitals and health plans each have their own practice in place – some homegrown, some bought, some more digitized than others – making the road to collaboration often a dead-end street. But it needn’t be.

The answer to this quagmire here in Pennsylvania and around the rest of the country is to ensure that everyone involved in patient care has timely access to the same information in the same secure and understandable format. This includes regulators, independent doctors, medical groups, hospitals, skilled-nursing facilities and payers. And increasingly, when it comes to clinical data, it even means the patients themselves.

The federal government acknowledged the importance of data sharing when it created the meaningful use mandate, which is intended to spur physicians to implement electronic health record (EHR) systems that make the collection and retrieval of data more universal. At the same time the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) and other payers are already using quality and patient satisfaction data to revise the current reimbursement model. As fee-for-service gradually gives way to value-based and outcomes-based payments, effective clinical coordination across all points of care will need to become the gold standard of practice if healthcare organizations are to thrive. The reason for all this activity is clear: the sharing of data is critical to quality patient care and efficiency in the healthcare system. 

As the healthcare history has shown, the challenge of sharing data within one organization is taxing enough. But today, with so many new partnerships, affiliations and “virtual” arrangements emerging in Pennsylvania and nationwide, the task of finding ways to securely and efficiently share data – starting with the fundamental question of what clinical and financial data to share – across the continuum is more daunting than ever. Here’s a good seven-step roadmap to follow:

  1. Share information that is relevant, meaningful and timely. Avoid doing a data dump. Too much information becomes a burden while too little may not be actionable.
  2. Share the right data for the right purpose (financial vs. clinical).
  3. Think collaboratively with the goal of presenting data in a format that is understandable to all recipients. Consider spreadsheet vs. populated forms. Consider, too, leveraging an outside partner who can aggregate the jumble of data into one presentation that is comprehensible by all who can benefit from it.
  4. Use reliable sources and make sure the data is secure. Security trumps everything else.
  5. Use data to guide action planning and to measure progress. That means including benchmarking and data goals and agreeing up front on which metrics to measure.
  6. Train and communicate with everyone involved in data collection, sharing and analyzing. Make sure there is ongoing alignment and understanding.
  7. Worry less about “who owns the data” and more about “how can this data do the most good.”

In this age of accountable care, Pennsylvania’s providers will need to broaden the depth and reach of their data collection capabilities by collaborating with their healthcare partners and vendors. This is particularly true in an ACO model where healthcare systems assume the financial risk of caring for entire populations. Here, more than ever, data can be the game changer between success and financial chaos. Only by working together to generate actionable data will healthcare systems attain the triple aim of lower costs, better outcomes and a heightened patient experience. 

Tom Peterson is president and CEO of Clear Vision Information Systems, one of the healthcare industry’s leading companies in helping Medicare Advantage health plans and the physicians who work with them improve their own profitability as well as the health and quality of life of their patients. For more information, visit www.cvinfosys.com.