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DC Panel Consensus: In the End, Data Analytics Comes Back to Patients, Communities

October 7, 2014
by Mark Hagland
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A panel of industry leaders agrees on the importance of leveraging data analytics for care management and population health

Industry leaders on a panel discussing the topic “Digging Deeper with Analytics” on Oct. 7 agreed that, in the end, the broader purposes of data analytics must circle back to patients and their communities, in a discussion that spanned a broad range of points and perspectives. The panelists were participating in the first discussion panel of the Health IT Summit in Washington, sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, or iHT2. (Since December 2013, iHT2 has been in partnership with Healthcare Informatics, through the Vendome Group LLC, HCI’s parent company.) The Health IT Summit in Washington is being held at the Westin Arlington Gateway, in Arlington, Va.

The panel discussion was moderated by Zachery Jiwa, a former Innovation Fellow at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). His panelists were Arun Natarajan, a health insurance analyst at HHS; Arumani Manisundaram, director of the Center for Connected Health at Adventist HealthCare, a Gaithersburg, Md.-based integrated health system; Samantha Burch, vice president, legislation and health information technology, at the Washington, D.C.-based Federation of American Hospitals (the Federation), a nationwide association of investor-owned hospitals and health systems, and Mark Solomon, director of innovation at the Ozark, Mo.-based HealthMEDX, LLC, a solutions provider specializing in long-term care and post-acute IT solutions.

Tuesday's data analytics panel discusses communities

The discussion was very wide-ranging, but certainly, by halfway through the session, panelists had circled what everyone on the panel agreed was a critical factor in the leveraging of analytics—a focus on real-world usability, on behalf of patients and communities. The Federation’s Burch put it this way: “The people on the ground, the people in the trenches, those who are part of the care delivery process—if you build an analytics program that doesn’t effectively incorporate those people, you won’t be able to be successful. I’ve seen a lot of different kinds of set-ups,” she added. “But you need those people involved. We’re also seeing a huge evolution in terms of hospitals deal with technology. You’re seeing a lot more chief medical information officers; you’re seeing a lot more integration around process and technology. It’s not just plug-and-play. And you need translators.”

Adventist Health’s Manisundaram added that, “Yes, we’ve been busy implementing the core EMR at our hospitals, and have been involved with meaningful use. Some of these vendors that we’ve invested in—a lot of people think that because the majority of dollars are invested in that EMR system, that that will be at the core of what we need to do. But some of those EMR systems lack the capabilities to do real analytics,” he added. “So in terms of doing population health and analytics, each of our hospitals has its own incentives, and may look at the data differently, or look at a different subset of data. But we need to look system-wide at what our end goals are in defining success… and we need to define those populations we’re trying to help, and need to figure out how our work aligns with our core corporate goals.”

HHS’s Natarajan attested to the fact that “There are already tremendous pockets of excellence” in the U.S. healthcare system “around sharing data and around challenges, and I do think that people are asking different questions. Whether we’re talking about foster kids aging out of the system; whether we’re talking about the recidivism of individuals going in and out of the criminal justice system—the need to track people and populations longitudinally; and that message will resonate differently depending on whether you’re a hospital, a county system, a state Medicaid system, etc. And something occurred in San Diego County, in terms of creating a total interoperable environment that includes not only their county health system abut also their social service boards; and also in Richmond, Virginia, making criminal justice data interoperable with state Medicaid data” has already occurred, he noted. “And those kinds of things will help address issues around interoperability and data analytics.”

Manisundaram noted that, “At Adventist, we now have a Center for Health Equity and Wellness, to work with the community and discuss things like heart healthiness and mammograms, broader wellness, and other issues. Being a faith-based organization,” he added, “we are very focused on the overall wellbeing of our patients and communities. We want to be incentivized to keep people out of the hospital, even though we’re a hospital-based organization. So that’s happening now in the community.”

HHS’s Natarajan added that, as capabilities evolve forward and population health and analytics work proceeds, more sophisticated levels of analysis will be achieved. At HHS, he noted, “We’re doing all sorts of analyses. In a recent one, we found six behavioral health-related codes strongly linked with top inpatient hospitalization and emergency department visit reasons. In fact, we found that one of them, bipolar disorder, was responsible for a considerable percentage of admissions and ED visits. We need to look at cross-checking chronic illnesses, particularly diabetes and CHF,” he added. “It’s great to have tools and to do analytics.” But then, he said, what’s important is helping to leverage that data to improve care management processes in patient care organizations; and that set of activities will necessarily encompass robust patient engagement.