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A Moving Target

January 28, 2013
by David Raths
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CIOs seek to create data-sharing, analytics platforms for ACOs. First, they must help define the business requirements

What does a technology platform for accountable care look like? What tools do organizations need to allow them to integrate clinical, claims, patient-reported and public health data into a patient-centric data model?

Healthcare Informatics recently interviewed several chief information officers (CIOs), chief medical information officers (CMIOs), and consultants involved in creating accountable care organizations (ACOs), and a consensus seems to be developing about the areas of infrastructure they need to bolster.

“The nice thing is that every consulting firm white paper I see is saying the same thing about the tools you need, so I feel like we are marching down the right path,” says David Lundal, vice president and regional CIO for St. Louis, Mo.-based SSM Integrated Health Technologies, Dean Clinic and Wisconsin Integrated Information Technology & Telemedicine Systems (WIITTS), the technology organization that supports SSM and Dean Clinic in Wisconsin. “We have formed an ACO, but we’ve had our own health plan for years, so the Medicare ACO is in many ways just an extension of what we have been doing,” he adds. “However, this movement to ac-  countable care does open up many new avenues for us.”

Premier Research Institute, a division of the Charlotte, N.C.-based Premier health alliance, recently created a framework to assess an organization’s progress toward meeting ACO model requirements. The project is described in a report, “Measuring Progress Toward Accountable Care,” (, which was released last December. After studying 59 organizations, Premier found that beyond the basics of a sophisticated electronic health record (EHR) and health information exchange (HIE) capability, ACOs must have “the ability to integrate disparate data, analyze data across a population of patients, stratify financial and clinical risk in the population, and measure the impact of targeted interventions.” In the organizations it studied, Premier actually found a low level of IT develop­ment, but its report stressed that “a robust capacity for population health analyt­ics will become more important over time due to the heavy reliance on data sharing and analytics that will be required in mature ACOs.”

But even if they understand that sophisticated analytics and HIE capabilities are necessary, the real challenge is that IT leaders are “trying to hit a moving target,” says Bob Schwyn, principal with Pittsburgh-based consulting firm Aspen Advisors. CIOs need to understand the business case and determine how fast they have to be moving, he adds. “Many realize they need to build an analytics environment, but what are the specific requirements needed? Often, there is not a clear answer.”

Bob Schwyn

The challenge for CIOs and other healthcare IT leaders is thinking deeply enough about what they need now and what they will need in the future in terms of things like secure messaging. Are they walking then running, or jumping right in?  “CIOs already have a lot on their plate between meaningful use and ICD-10. They are stretched with budget and resource challenges,” Schwyn notes. “They have to hit the pause button, and really understand ACOs, before jumping in.”

Lundal says the biggest areas of growth for WIITTS would be business intelligence and telehealth. “We have created a shared analytics platform that pulls claims data and clinical data from its Epic (Verona, Wis.) system. It was a hard thing to create,” he stresses. “We are using data analysis and predictive modeling tools from CPM Healthgrades. It is a long road. We have to work through defining new terms involving the cost of care. If you ask the health plan, they will have one definition while the provider side has another.”

As provider organizations are paid more for value than volume, Lundal adds, telehealth services that can improve access make more financial sense. “Giving patients more convenient access and the ability to speak to clinicians may stop their health from degrading. We are already doing teleradiology, telepharmacy, and teleconsults.”


If one of the foundational tools for care coordination is health information exchange, the question CIOs may face is: public or private HIE—or both? Dean Clinic and SSM Health Care in Wisconsin have created a single platform based on Epic Systems technology across six hospitals and 900 physicians. Using Epic’s Care Everywhere tool allows the organization to share data across all those providers as it waits for public HIEs in Wisconsin to develop so it can reach even more care settings.

But the University of Michigan Health System’s (UMHS’s) ACO is turning to a public HIE, the Great Lakes HIE (GLHIE), in East Lansing, Mich., to share information with those outside the health system. (UMHS is partnering with IHA Health Services Corp. and Huron Valley Physicians Association practices, both in Ann Arbor, Mich., in a pioneer ACO.)

“We are an Epic site and Epic has some pretty good tools, but the challenge for ACOs like ours is that one-third of patients see providers outside our system,” says Andrew Rosenberg, M.D., CMIO for the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor. We need a platform to exchange data with providers in the ACO, IHA and Huron Valley, because we all work in the same area and we might be seeing each other’s patients and not know it. This sub-state HIE is the way to go.”