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D.C. Report: Discussions on the Future of Analytics, Telehealth

August 14, 2012
by Jeff Smith, Assistant Director of Advocacy at CHIME
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Jeff Smith, Assistant Director of Advocacy at CHIME

Future of Data and Analytics in Healthcare Debated at National Forum At this year’s eHealth Initiative Nation Forum, held in Washington, over two-dozen panelists discussed the current and future role data and analytics in healthcare.  Topics ranged from secondary use of data and managing chronic conditions with data to leveraging predictive analytics in accountable care organizations (ACOs).  During the morning keynote, Siemens’ John Glaser focused on two big trends he sees converging to make this unlike healthcare reforms of the past.  Despite the re-emergence of familiar mantras like “bending the cost curve” and “improved care coordination” current changes in reimbursement mechanisms and the advent of the “Fifth IT revolution” make this a unique time for healthcare, Glaser said. 

Payment reforms

For instance, now it is a certainty that providers will be paid less for care delivery; providers have to prove quality, safety and efficiency to a degree previously unknown; and the payment reforms currently in progress are more holistic than those of the past.  Additionally, Glaser noted that there is increasingly too much to know in the healthcare field; data is coming in from all directions, he said.

5th IT Revolution

Next, Glaser explained that every ten years, since the 1960s, there has been a shift in IT that changes the world.  He mentioned mainframe computing, minicomputers, personal computers, and the World Wide Web as being predecessors to the current IT revolution.  Now, we are entering a time when 1) every person and thing has powerful processors and 80 percent of them are not in cell phones or computers 2) networked computing allows us to send and receive data seamlessly and 3) a phenomenal amount of data is being produced and increasingly harnessed to make decisions.

Glaser noted a shift in EHR technology that is oriented towards transactions to a technology that is intelligence oriented. He used the phrase “In-Silico Intelligence” to discuss how predictive analytics can help providers focus on those patients who have the highest readmission risk, for example.  He said this era will enable the use of large data volumes to perform “real world” analysis and experiments, orchestrate complex processes and deliver new services such as location aware / invariant services.

Glaser’s slides, as well as other presentations at the eHI National Forum

Telehealth Takes Center Stage during IOM Workshop The Institute of Medicine held a workshop recently, organized by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) in order to focus on telemedicine.  The goal of the workshop was to: 1) look forward and determine what the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) should do next to encourage adoption and use of telemedicine, 2) understand what the special implications of telemedicine are for rural areas and 3) determine what evidence-based interventions work in telemedicine.  According to experts who attended the event, an estimated 10 million patients in the United States are served by telemedicine each year, but expanding its reach further and making it an integral part of the health care system will remain a challenge without changes in reimbursement policies and state licensing.  Specifically, panelists explained that telemedicine faces problems in operating across state lines because doctors generally must obtain licenses in each state where they practice, despite practitioners who may practice in multiple states and providers that are forming nearly national systems.  Additionally, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) restricts Medicare reimbursement for telemedicine services for patients in metropolitan areas even if the area is underserved, causing the use of such technology as part of an ACO strategy – something CMS openly supports – to be difficult.  Mary Wakefield, HRSA administrator, said she wants to encourage the discussion of telehealth’s role in the healthcare overhaul. “The importance of this will continue to grow, especially as more and more people in rural and isolated areas across the United States are able to seek a full complement of health care services,” she said.

Operating Rules for Healthcare Electronic Payments Could Save $9 Billion Over the next ten years, the healthcare system could save over $9 billion in administrative costs by adopting operating rules for electronic payments.  Most of the savings from these electronic payments would result from the inclusion of explanations for payment adjustments leading to less back office work for healthcare providers.  According to studies, physicians spend an average of three weeks a year on insurance-related tasks and billing issues.  “These new rules will cut red tape, save money and ensure doctors spend more time seeing patients and less time filling out forms,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius in press release.