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Putting Social Determinants of Health Data into Action

September 10, 2018
by Heather Landi, Associate Editor
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Healthcare leaders engaged in these efforts have found that health IT is foundational to this work in the collection of social determinants data as well for data exchange across the care continuum and risk stratification
Geisinger's Fresh Food Farmacy initiative

Healthcare providers that provide direct patient care have long recognized that social and economic factors have a significant impact on the health of an individual, and the health of populations, yet it has only been in the past few years that healthcare organizations have started to formalize an approach to addressing social determinants of health, such as food insecurity, housing, transportation and literacy.

These efforts to focus more on the upstream factors that influence patients’ health are occurring in parallel to the healthcare industry’s ongoing transition from fee-for-service to value-based care and payment models, as patient care organizations look to improve health outcomes and reduce costs. For health systems, moving beyond facility walls to collect and incorporate social determinants data into community level programs represents the next phase of population health management strategy.

“Healthcare providers have known for a long time that social determinants are incredibly important, but there hasn’t been, in a regular fee-for-service model, an incentive for healthcare organizations to partner with community-based organizations,” says Robert Fields, M.D., senior vice president and chief medical officer for population health at the New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System. “When you start to get paid on outcomes and reductions in total cost of care then it makes it financially reasonable to invest upstream into infrastructure and preventive care. Many times, that preventive care looks a lot like closing social determinants gaps to avoid the downstream cost. The economics are changing.”

Robert Fields, M.D.

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Indeed, a report from the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions based on a survey with hospital officials about their efforts to gather and analyze social data about their patients found that there was a high correlation between health systems that were screening for social determinants and those that were involved in at-risk payment models and were already pretty far along in their journey to value-based care.

What’s more, researchers at the University of South Florida (USF) College of Public Health, Tampa, and WellCare Health Plans found that healthcare spending is substantially reduced when people are successfully connected to social services that address social barriers. The researchers’ study, which assessed the impact of social services among 2,700 Medicaid and Medicare Advantage members on healthcare costs, reported an additional 10 percent reduction in healthcare costs—equating to more than $2,400 per person per year savings—for people who were successfully connected to social services compared to a control group of members who were not.

Healthcare leaders engaged in these efforts have found that health IT is foundational to this work in the collection of social determinants data as well for data exchange across the care continuum, workflow integration and analytics to risk stratify the highest-need individuals. Leading hospitals, medical groups, and health systems, as well as accountable care organizations (ACOs) and health insurers are moving forward in this work with a number of different approaches.

Early Efforts to Capture SDoH Data

At Rush University in Chicago, clinical and IT leaders developed a social determinants of health screening tool within the electronic health record (EHR) to combine with clinical registry data. Rush University Medical Center leveraged the NowPow platform and integrated it into the workflows of the primary care physicians and frontline staff, according to Michael Hanak, M.D., associate chief medical informatics officer at Rush University.

After the provider completes the patient intake process, the Rush EHR combines the social data with the medical history into a patient profile that it sends to NowPow. The software queries the company’s database of local community resources to identify where patients can receive needed services. NowPow then provides a curated list of resources and services — called a HealtheRx—that matches the patient’s needs. The technology enters the HealtheRx in the patient’s medical record, sends it to the identified community-based providers, and emails and/or texts it to the patient.

Michael Hanak, M.D.

“This is a gamechanger for population health,” Hanak says. Clinical IT leaders are collecting the social data and using that to risk stratify patients. “That’s helpful when we look at our patients who are in managed care contracts, so we’re applying wraparound services to our higher-risk patients and the social determinants screening is part of that.”

Hanak says patient navigators used the tool to screen patients who were no-shows for doctor’s appointments. “We found that nearly one-third of these patients who had missed a visit had a social need that we could assist with. Our hope is that we see that actually improves adherence to visits and engagement with care,” he says.

Clinicians at the University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Medical Center in Little Rock are prompted by their EHR to ask patients questions about their personal life regarding their financial situation, drinking habits, social isolation and domestic abuse as part of the hospital’s efforts to standardize the collection of social needs data. Stephen Mette, M.D., the medical center’s chief clinical officer, says clinical and IT leaders began an effort about two years ago to embed these questions in the EHR as part of a larger mission at UAMS to systematically address social health inequities that create health disparities.

Stephen Mette, M.D.

“Technology is wonderful in that it allows us to have ready access to data, and the ability to analyze the data and package the data in useful ways to allow the data to be used to inform clinical decisions by providers,” he says, although he adds that the accuracy of data and the availability of data to providers continue to be challenges. “But, we’re much further ahead than we were a few years ago because of our data systems.”

Bradley Hunter, research director at Orem, Utah-based KLAS Research, says health information exchanges (HIEs) are well-positioned to play a vital role in these efforts by bridging gaps between the healthcare and social services sectors. In fact, the Strategic Health Information Exchange Collaborative (SHIEC) recently established a Social Determinants Committee, with the core aim to help SHIEC better focus on identifying and linking social determinants of health data and to overcome challenges for data exchange between health and social service entities.

Leveraging SDoH Data for Population Health Efforts

Health insurer Humana is actively addressing social determinants of health as part of its Bold Goal initiative, with a goal of improving the health of the communities it serves 20 percent by 2020. Measuring progress using the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) population health management tool known as Healthy Days, Humana found that implementing community-level changes has led to positive health outcomes for elderly beneficiaries with heart disease, diabetes, respiratory conditions and other chronic diseases. For example, individuals in Humana’s San Antonio Bold Goal community saw a 3.5 percent improvement in Healthy Days and Knoxville participants saw a 5.4 percent improvement.

Many integrated health systems such as Kaiser, Partners, Intermountain and Geisinger also are at the forefront of these efforts.

As a participant in the MassHealth (Medicaid) ACO, Boston-based Partners Healthcare is required to screen Medicaid ACO patients for social determinants factors and has integrated that process into its primary care practices.

“It’s not just screening for screening’s sake,” says Rose Kakoza, M.D., assistant medical director for Medicaid for the Center of Population Health at Partners Healthcare. “We’ve been very thoughtful to think about, as we screen for social determinants of health, we need to make sure we have the appropriate resources in place to manage the needs that come to light as a result of that screening.” To address this, the organization deployed parallel care management strategies and increased its staff of community resource specialists and social work support.

Partners also worked with its eCare team (eCare is the organization’s enterprise-wide Epic EHR) to map the positive screening results to ICD-10 codes, enabling clinical leaders, for the first time, to track unmet social needs in a systematic way. The next phase, Kakoza says, is to integrate a platform into the EHR to track whether the referral loop was closed.

Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health System also is further along on this path with an innovative initiative, called Fresh Food Farmacy, that aims to address food insecurity, as a significant social factor impacting health, and to improve patients’ diabetes management. Geisinger’s Fresh Food Farmacy provides fresh, healthy food to diabetes patients, at no cost to the patients. The health system initially launched the program in July 2016 as a pilot project at Geisinger Shamokin Area Community Hospital in Coal Township, in Northumberland County, which has the second-highest rate of long-term diabetes complications in central Pennsylvania.

Project leaders have seen significant improvements in clinical outcomes for patients enrolled in the Food Farmacy program, to date. Robust data analytics plays a critical role in the success of the project, says Andrea Feinberg, M.D., medical director of Health and Wellness at Geisinger Health and the clinical champion of the initiative. “The data analytics is huge; we have an incredible dashboard that we use and it tracks what’s going on with the patients and the program. Without that, we would not be able to support the work that we’re doing,” she says.

At New York City-based Mount Sinai Health System, leaders of the organization’s ACO, Mount Sinai Health Partners, are working with Lumeris, a St. Louis-based health plan and managed services vendor, to use its analytics platform to identify the social needs of its 400,000 members, connect them to community resources and then risk stratify patients for further intervention. IT leaders also are working to integrate the social determinants care plan and the workflows into its health IT systems.

According to Fields, Lumeris’ platform leverages publicly available data, such as census data, and also purchases social determinants data, like credit agency data, and then combines that with claims data, and the runs the data through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to come up with predictive modeling for patients at risk of hospital admission. Fields led similar successful efforts at Asheville, North Carolina-based Mission Health Partners, what he calls a “heavily social determinants-driven” Medicare ACO affiliated with the Mission Health healthcare system.

“With this predictive modeling, I can tell you with a relatively high degree of certainty, for any of our attributed lives, the risk of a patient ending up in the hospital for an unplanned admission within the next 30 days, which is amazing, to think about, being able to look upstream,” he says. “As a provider or a care management entity, if you knew that a specific patient was going to end up in the hospital, what would you do differently? Probably a lot. That’s what we started to work with at Mission, and now we’ll be working here at Mount Sinai, using that predictive model to start prioritizing patients to figure out who might need outreach and what kind of outreach that might be.”

He also notes that analytics, and specifically predictive analytics, are critical components to this work. “Any ACO or any participant in value-based care has a set amount of resources, they are not unlimited.
What analytics allows you to do is really identify those patients that are likely to have a bad outcome or lead to high cost, ideally before that happens, and then, of those patients that are likely to have a bad outcome, who is likely to benefit from what specific social determinant need. To the degree that analytics and predictive analytics can start to identify those for you, it saves hours of potential evaluation and assessment of the patients in your population. And the efficiency that will come from that is pretty unbelievable,” he says, adding, “Both predictive analytics and risk stratification are incredibly important to be able to identify and then prioritize the patients.”

Challenges to Addressing SDoH

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions study on social determinants of health within healthcare systems found that there is strong interest, but lack of funding and little measurement of impact.

According to the report, 80 percent of the people surveyed said, yes, social needs are a core part of our mission. Seventy-two percent said they don’t have sustainable funding to do it. In an interview with Healthcare Informatics Contributing Editor David Raths about the report, Josh Lee, a principal in the firm’s Healthcare Provider Strategy Practice, said, “That is in many ways a heartbreaking mismatch. They are saying ‘we know this should be part of our mission, but we really don’t know how we can pay for it.’ Forty percent felt they were doing something in this regard, but had no way of measuring whether it was working or not. Those three numbers—80, 72 and 40—tell the story.”

Mount Sinai’s Fields also notes that operationalizing this work continues to be very challenging as addressing social needs is still based on having a relationship with the patient. “Even with all the technology in the world, it’s still challenging to develop operations that can actually make an impact and engage with patients in this work. It requires a great deal of sensitivity and whole lot of patience to engage with patients in this work.”


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Is Big Data the New Moneyball?

November 14, 2018
by Pamela Dixon, Industry Voice
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The new healthcare chief data officer can provide your playbook and data strategy

Anyone who has seen the movie Moneyball, a movie about baseball, will remember the opening scene— old guys talking around a smoky table with marked-up stacks of paper outlining the pluses and minuses of draft prospects. The old guys “critique” these prospects with the knowhow of hard-earned experience, and they talk with the familiarity of a weekly poker match.  

So when they are presented with a buttoned-up computer kid from Yale who will present his draft picks to them, there is a moment of surprised silence.  The kid clicks off his list of little known players to stares of disbelief, and he explains matter-of-factly, “The picks are based solely on statistical analysis.”  That’s when you see their world get upended.

Healthcare may be caught in a similar moment, on the edge of a fundamental shift.  In Moneyball, the shift from money driving decisions to information driving the decisions upended the World Series and, subsequently, the game of baseball.  Big data may similarly upend healthcare.

Admittedly, our opening scene in healthcare has some old guys in the room—half of doctors in the U.S. are over 50 years old—and, yes, they show resistance to change.  Meanwhile, healthcare consumers are in the bleachers increasing pressure for a big win.  And coming on to the playing field is big tech, betting on its AI prowess and other technology tools to address big data. Can it fix healthcare?

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Source: CB Insights

Big Tech’s Growing Interest in Healthcare

Following the money, we see big tech’s interest in healthcare starting to grow in 2012 (see above). In 2012, the top-10 tech companies that were involved in healthcare equity deals were worth about $277 million. In 2017, that grew to $2.7 billion. Driving part of the interest is big data.

“It’s not the data,” said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute. “It’s the analytics. Up until three-to-five years ago, all that data was just sitting there. Now it’s being analyzed and interpreted.  It’s the most radical change happening in healthcare.”

What’s in it for Big Tech?

Data-rich Facebook and Google make their money on advertising—an industry worth $200 billion, which is small compared to healthcare’s $3 trillion industry.  David Friend, managing director at account firm BDO, estimates a major opportunity for these two tech giants. “In theory, if this is done right, you’ll have 15 Facebooks and 15 Googles. That’s what’s up for grabs.”

While driving a profit is one opportunity, the ability to capitalize on data is key to developing consumer-centric models of care, improving patient outcomes, and lowering costs—which are all critical for healthcare.  Healthcare systems are working to accomplish the same goals using big data analytics, sometimes together with big tech companies.  A few examples:

  •          Stanford University School of Medicine, in conjunction with Apple’s new app, Apple ResearchKit, enrolled more than 11,000 patients—in 24 hours—which is more than most medical studies achieve in a year, and they collected much more data in 24 hours than they could have otherwise. This was an “eye opener” for them.
  •         The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) was able to prevent a $210.7 million in fraud in just one year using big data analytics. 
  •          Allina Health System, an integrated delivery system of 13 hospitals and 82 clinics in Minnesota, realized more than $45 million in performance improvement savings over the past five years in a project targeting only cardiovascular care across the system.

So back to our opening scene, we have the old guys in the room resistant to change.  We have the consumers demanding change from the bleachers.  We have big tech on the playing field applying tools to big data to create some wins.  We have a few healthcare providers coming on to the field using data to create wins. But who is our buttoned-up computer kid, the one that puts together the “moneyball” playbook?  Enter the chief data officer; he or she is there to provide your playbook and your data strategy.

The CDO role is generally tasked with oversight of a comprehensive data strategy, enabling a data-driven culture, creating operational efficiencies and, in some organizations, revenue opportunities. These leaders provide the organization with a clear set of objectives and goals.

The chief data officer enters the scene when healthcare is on the threshold of a major shift. In addition to transforming care, controlling costs and enhancing revenue, data can be used to negotiate competitive rates with insurers, set more accurate (and justifiable) prices for healthcare procedures, and create the transparency that consumers are demanding. Understanding the flow of data will also find hidden opportunities to control costs and enhance revenue. Just your basic “moneyball” playbook.

While the CDO role has gained broad acceptance outside of healthcare, adoption has been very slow inside healthcare.  According to the International Institute for Analytics, which ranked various industries’ ability to harness data, healthcare providers came in last—lagging behind all other industries and all other healthcare segments, including health insurers.

"Moneyball" helped level the playing field by looking at information. This is where healthcare providers also start playing the game with new tools and a new type of leader.

Pamela Dixon, managing partner

www.castlightsearch.com

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Olympic Marathons: Performance Improvement Initiatives Help to Power the Long Race

November 14, 2018
by Mark Hagland, Editor-in-Chief
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Organizations on the leading edge are also strategically leveraging information technology and data analytics as a key facilitator to continuous performance improvement, particularly on the clinical side

At a time when the leaders of patient care organizations are facing intensifying pressure to shift away from a dependence on volume-based payment and to plunge into value-based care delivery, what strategies can help them lead their organizations to success under new paradigms? With Seema Verma herself, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), bluntly warning hospital, medical group, and health system leaders that she and her fellow senior federal healthcare officials will be pushing hard to compel providers forward into value-based contracting, IT-facilitated continuous performance improvement strategies are looming large as a critical success factor in the shift to value.

Indeed, speaking during a webinar on August 27 sponsored by the Accountable Care Collaborative, Verma responded to questions about CMS’s effort to push provider organizations to take on two-sided risk in the context of the agency’s accountable care organization (ACO) programs, particularly the Medicare Shared Savings Program (MSSP).

Asked by the webinar host, Mark McClellan, M.D., director of the Duke-Margolis Center for Health Policy and co-chairman of the Accountable Care Learning Collaborative, about provider feedback on the proposed changes to the MSSP ACO program, Verma responded, “I think many people recognize that it’s time to take that next step and it’s time to evolve the program; it’s been six years. We also understand that there may be providers that are not ready. But, our focus is to work with providers that are serious about making the investments and providing better care for lower cost.” What’s more, she intoned, “We’re trying to transition the structure to encourage providers to take on risk because we know that is going to deliver better outcomes.”

And while none of that rhetorical forcefulness—some might even call it saber-rattling—should come as a surprise from Verma, it’s also true that she fully realizes how challenging the overall transition is turning out to be for the vast majority of patient care organizations, which have more-or-less-contentedly been inhabiting a discounted fee-for-service payment world, even as the discounts have progressively bitten more deeply into their operating revenues.

The reality? On the hospital and health system side of the industry, hospital senior leaders long ago shaved off excessive expenses when it came to such areas as the supply chain and facilities management. And what remains to tackle now is the Moby Dick of operations: reworking processes at the core of patient care delivery, in order to achieve significantly improved cost-effectiveness and patient outcomes; everything else has already been tackled. In short, it’s become eminently clear that clinical and operational transformation cannot happen without the thorough reengineering of core care delivery processes.

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In that context, larger numbers of hospital and health system (and a few medical group) leaders have plunged ahead over the past decade-plus, and have moved to incorporate the use of formal performance improvement methodologies, among them Lean management, Six Sigma, the Toyota Production System for healthcare, and PDSA (Plan Do Study Act, formerly PDCA, or Plan Do Check Act) cycles of improvement, in order to achieve clinical and operational transformation. In practice, the quality leaders at most patient care organizations have liberally mixed the use of various methodologies, while others have relied primarily on one methodology, but have allowed the blending of concepts from others.

What’s more, the organizations on the leading edge are also strategically leveraging information technology and data analytics as a key facilitator to continuous performance improvement, particularly on the clinical side. Indeed, they are finding IT facilitation to be essential to success in achieving transformational change.

In Asheville, A Comprehensive Push Forward into Value

One of the patient care organizations that has been moving ahead determinedly in its use of IT-facilitated continuous performance improvement strategies is Mission Health, a six-hospital, 11,000-employee health system based in Asheville, North Carolina.

There, Chris DeRienzo, M.D., Mission Health’s chief quality officer, and Dawn Burgard, director of clinical performance improvement, have been helping to lead a comprehensive effort for several years, one that has already borne significant fruit. Back in 2010 and 2011, Mission Health leaders began mapping care delivery processes, adding in an analytics platform in 2013 and 2014. Burgard, who came to Mission Health in 2012, with a master black belt in Six Sigma and a certification in Lean management, and Dr. DeRienzo, who came in 2013, have turbocharged efforts in the organization since then. Among other developments, they early on brought on a cadre of 21 Lean management engineers, known as quality improvement advisors, or QIAs, and have built an enterprise-wide data warehouse.

One key tool that the leaders at Mission Health have built has been a dashboard called the Ambulatory CPM Explorer Dashboard, which is bringing near-real-time data to physicians. Among the accomplishments in the past few years:

  • A 20-percent increase in full sepsis bundle and a 32-percent reduction in mortality from sepsis
  • 12 lung cancer deaths avoided with 37 percent increase in screening
  • 9 fewer rib fracture deaths and $350,000 in reduced direct costs
  • A 42-percent reduction in in-hospital stroke mortality
  • 11,000 more women screened for breast cancer, 6,000 more people screened for colorectal cancer, and a seven-fold increase in depression screening

And, in two specific areas—among numerous others—Mission Health leaders have leveraged performance improvement cycles to build and optimize key initiatives. One has been the creation of the organization’s Readmissions Predictor initiative, which has dramatically enhanced ambulatory care managers’ ability to efficiently predict which patients might be at the highest risk for readmission, following discharge. That initiative began in early 2017, and has been led directly by Dr. DeRienzo and by Mission Health’s CIO, John Brown.

Spending over a year to build, test, and validate the program, Mission Health leaders created a dashboard that uses smart algorithms to provide care managers with up-to-the-minute data every morning at the start of the workday, helping them to determine which individuals, post-discharge, are most likely to end up being readmitted, and allowing them to start their days focusing on those at highest risk for readmission.

A second very important initiative, which began a year and a half ago, has involved applying the Explorer Dashboard to monitor patient flow into and through the emergency department, and to take steps to respond to emerging patient-flow blockages created by surges in patients presenting in the ED. Now, Burgard reports, “We have triggers on our home page, so everyone in the hospital knows what surge status we’re in. And once a new color is triggered”—from a range of four colors (green, yellow, orange, red) that indicate the degree of blockage—"there’s a whole bunch of standard work—a Lean term that involves the standardization of the elimination of variation in processes—that teams and managers are expected to do, depending on surge level,” she says. “That’s the power of standard work. It allows us to get into that predictive space and helps us to become more efficient with the way we staff.” Using this set of processes, patient volume surging that had peaked at 4 percent of patients who left before being seen, in the summer of 2016, is now down to 1 percent, with the ability to see 300 patients every day in the flagship hospital’s ED now a standard volume that has been made the norm.

The core recipe, DeRienzo notes, has included the following: a reliable enterprise data warehouse; a reliable data visualization environment; “more structure in clinical program leadership among physicians, nurses, and administrators”; a cadre of Lean management engineers; and, “trusted advisors.”

At UPMC, Patient Engagement for Improved Outcomes

Numerous quality improvement methodology-infused initiatives are moving ahead as well at the 40-hospital UPMC health system, based in Pittsburgh. There, says Tami Minnier, R.N., M.S.N., UPMC’s chief quality officer, “We use all of them”—especially Lean management, Six Sigma, and PDSA principles and strategies. But, she quickly adds, “Coming into healthcare from manufacturing, I learned early on that healthcare wasn’t quite ready for all the terminology around performance improvement methodologies, so we avoid technical terminology here. I have a black belt in Lean, but I don’t get into the intricacies,” she testifies. “I found that it turned people off. We had people say, ‘We don’t build cars.’”

Instead, Minnier has helped to lead forward a number of initiatives, and, she says, “We use whatever tool makes most sense at the time, and have blended them over time over the 12 years that the Wolff Center has been in existence”—referring to the UPMC Wolff Center for Quality, Safety, and Innovation—“and over time, we’ve raised the bar and have introduced things like run charts, fishbones [the fishbone tool for root cause analysis], some of the tools people find useful. But we don’t say, let’s have a big Kaizen on Tuesday afternoon! We’ve been a bit savvy about how we do it.”

And, as one of her key partners in those endeavors, MaCalus Hogan, M.D., vice chair of orthopedic surgery, and medical director for outcomes and registries at the Wolff Center, says, “I’ve been educated in the Lean environment and learned a lot from Tami and her team. Efficiency is key” in every endeavor, he says. “And in the surgical environment, things are geared around doing things well and efficiently.” Together, Minnier and Dr. Hogan have been leading an initiative that has significantly improved both patient engagement, and improved clinical and satisfaction outcomes, around the entire cycle around total hip and knee replacement surgery, which they and their colleagues have implemented across the six highest-volume total joint replacement surgery facilities in the UPMC system. “We needed to go further in clinical care improvement, encompassing from how we prepare patients, to alignment on who were good candidates,” Minnier explains.

And, Minnier says, “One of the things that we learned early on was that there was pretty inconsistent preparation of patients planning to come in for hip or knee replacement. Some doctors and their offices did this really fantastic job of preparing their patients for surgery, and some didn’t quite have it together. So we did a good current-state assessment, using Lean and PDSA approaches. We looked at the current state of variations, and what types of resources and materials people had in place, and then brought together a new model of change, centered around an orthopedic nurse coordinator in every site. That role was to protect and prepare every patient for surgery, and most importantly, to think about what their care at home would be like after surgery.”

The initiative began three years ago, with the orthopedic nurse coordinators being brought in two-and-a-half years ago. Those coordinators, also referred to as “navigators,” ensure an orderly, comprehensive process to prepare patients and provide them with online education. Leveraging the organization’s patient portal, MyUPMC, office physicians can prescribe educational materials during the office visit, just as they’d prescribe medications. And, she says, “The process improvement of having an ortho nurse coordinator, coupled with the technology support, really allowed patients to arrive at a preoperative phase in a much more prepared, organized manner, to anticipate what would happen when they got to the hospital and how they’d be taken care of.” And, as a result of intensive continuous improvement cycles, “We’ve been able to eliminate pretty much all of the variation,” she testifies. “And every single member of these ortho nurse navigators, they meet on a monthly basis, share each other’s practices, they’ve become a resource group unto themselves. That’s how you perpetuate and sustain change.”

In the context of the joint replacement improvement process, Dr. Hogan and Minnier saw clearly the advantage of Hogan’s being a foot and ankle surgeon rather than being a joint replacement surgeon. As such, he brought into the process a level of credibility as a fellow surgeon; yet at the same time, he was in a different subspecialty, so he could not be seen as a threat to the joint replacement surgeons. And the results have been impressive: consistent educational and preparational processes, improved patient satisfaction, and in many cases, enhanced recovery outcomes.

The Power of Harnessing Analytics

Industry leaders interviewed for this article agree on the core truths about all this: that using formal improvement strategies, of whatever specific type, will yield results; and that part of the power of this to achieve clinical transformation is in effectively harnessing IT and data analytics to facilitate such work.

“In my experience, it doesn’t really matter which methodology you choose, but that you choose an improvement methodology or methodologies, and stick with your strategies; it’s the discipline that matters,” says George Reynolds, M.D., the clinical informatics executive advisor for CHIME (the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based College of Healthcare Information Management Executives), and principal in Reynolds Healthcare Advisers, LLC. Dr. Reynolds, who served as the CMIO at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center, in Omaha, Nebraska, for 11 years, and CIO for the last five years of that tenure, reports that “We did a version of PDCA [Plan Do Check Act—an earlier version of Plan Do Study Act], which is very easy to teach, but lacks the rigor and the discipline of Lean and Six Sigma. We would do well [at Children’s], but it was hard to maintain the changes.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Reynolds says firmly, leveraging data and analytics to power performance improvement cycles is “absolutely central to everything you do. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be really fancy bells and whistles, though I love fancy bells and whistles. You can do a lot with an Excel spreadsheet. You can do a lot with some fairly simple tools. But the more advanced tools become valuable” as organizations move forward into deeper and broader efforts.

Early on in the Proverbial Journey of 1,000 Miles

What remains disconcerting is how far behind most U.S. patient care organizations are starting out, says Robin Czajka, service line vice president for cost management at the Charlotte-based Premier Inc. Asked where she thinks the healthcare industry is, if this phenomenon could be compared to the proverbial journey of a thousand miles, the Chicago-based Czajka says that “I would say that we’re at the very beginning of it, frankly, having been in the industry for 25 years. You see pockets of great performance, and areas where we haven’t made any progress at all,” she says. “Some organizations are short of staff and mired in taking care of increasingly sick patients. So this needs to be a top priority. And we’re looking at a 5-percent growth year-over-year” in hospital costs. “The Medicare fund will be insolvent if we keep on this trajectory.”

What’s more, says Mary Frances Butler, a senior adviser at the Chicago-based Impact Advisors consulting firm, the level of progress in this area “will depend on the type of hospital.” There is a continuum of advancement, she notes, “from small community hospitals, all the way up to the mega-systems like Intermountain and Geisinger [the Salt Lake City-based Intermountain Health and the Danville, Pa.-based Geisinger Health], who have been at it a long time. Intermountain is an example of a leader in this. And, to the extent that leader organizations have been able to facilitate conversations through the C-suite and into the IT group, to get out of their silos,” they’ve made greater progress, she notes.

Premier’s Czajka has mixed sentiments with regard to the mixing or blending of specific methodologies. “It’s both good and bad; you can create some kinds of success, but you do lose some things; I’ve personally seen Lean be effective when done rigorously,” she says. “But as long as it’s cyclical, monitored, and sustainable, and as long as there are checks and balances,” any combination of methodologies can be made to work well, she says. The absolutely critical success factor? “Success in this area is always data-driven,” she insists. “And with Six Sigma, you take data over time and look at it and act. A lot of organizations will see a blip, for example, bed sores, and will react to it. But it may turn out to be a special-cause variation, maybe they got an unusual surge of admissions from a nursing home or something. When you start to employ a system like Lean, problem solvers become problem framers. So you need to look carefully at the data and analyze it, and act over time.”

The Power of Data-Focused Teams

One lesson shared by those in the trenches is the power of creating and nurturing purpose-specific teams focused intensively on the management of data to power performance improvement, particularly in the clinical area. Oscar Marroquin, M.D., a practicing cardiologist and epidemiologist in Pittsburgh, has been helping to lead a team of data experts there. That team, of about 25 data specialists, was first created five years ago. Of those, half are IT- and infrastructure-focused, and, says Dr. Marroquin, “The rest are a team of folks dedicated to data consumption issues. So we have clinical analysts, data visualization specialists, and a team of data scientists who are applying the right tools and methods, spanning from traditional analytical techniques to advanced computational deep learning and everything in between. Our task is to use the clinical data, and derive insights”—and all 12 clinically focused data specialists report to him.

And that work—“allowing people to ask questions to generate opportunities”—has paid off handsomely. Among the advances has been the creation of a data model that predicts the chances that patients who are being discharged will be readmitted. The model, based on the retrospective analysis of one million discharges, is also helping case managers to more effectively prepare patients for discharge, specifically by ensuring that patients being discharged are promptly scheduled for follow-up visits with their primary care physicians. “If those patients are seen within 30 days of discharge,” he notes, “there’s a 50-percent reduction in their 30-day rate of readmission.” The program is now active in six UPMC hospitals.

What it Really Means to be Data-Driven

Those industry leaders interviewed for this article are agreed on what healthcare IT leaders should know both about the adoption of performance improvement methodologies generally, as well as about the leveraging of IT and data to achieve success in clinical and operational transformation.

“If you’re going to embark on a Lean Six Sigma-driven journey, it rises and falls based on leadership,” says Mission Health’s Burgard. “We know that the methodologies work. But I always say, Lean is not a set of tools, it’s a mindset for how you’ll transform your organization. The same thing is true with technology. It all rises and falls on leadership. And senior leaders need to understand the methodology and the tools. That applies to technology, too.”

“I’ve been really impressed with the degree of partnership of our CIO John Brown, with our PI team,” says her colleague DeRienzo. “When I think about continuous improvement, there’s so much overlap between the improvement processes and the data processes. And by driving alignments across the entire system, including across the different teams, we’ve been able to make much broader progress.”

Importantly, says Premier Inc.’s Czajka, “It’s crucial to accept that data shouldn’t be the enemy of the good. The data is never going to be perfect,” she says. “Just make sure it’s directionally accurate.” What’s more, she says, “You need to train your people to use the data correctly. I can’t tell you how many times I meet with clients and they have these great data systems they’ve purchased, but no one is trained to work well with it. And,” she says, “figure out the data points that will actually drive improvement. I went into a member hospital that had about 100 data points they were asking people to focus on, in a dashboard. You can’t ask people to do that.” Working with leaders at that hospital, she was able to get them to narrow down those 100-some data points to 11 that could be focused on, for process improvement.

In the end, says UPMC’s Marroquin, “If we all are serious about transforming the way we care for patients, we need to do it in a data-driven way. There has to be a philosophical belief and commitment to do that, and then you have to create a team that’s dedicated to this work. I don’t think this is achievable in an ad hoc way.” Finally, he says, “This work is not for the faint of heart; it takes time and effort, but if you have the philosophical belief and institutional commitment, it’s doable.”


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You Have to Learn to Walk Before You Can Run With Predictive Analytics

November 11, 2018
by David Raths, Contributing Editor
| Reprints
Health systems report obstacles in turning their big data into actionable insights

The title of a recent webinar says all you need to know about predictive analytics in healthcare: “Within Sight Yet Out of Reach.”

The Center for Connected Medicine, jointly operated by GE Healthcare, Nokia, and UPMC, put on the webinar and partnered with HIMSS on a survey on the state of predictive analytics in healthcare.

The survey of 100 health IT leaders found that approximately 7 out of 10 hospitals and health systems say they are taking some action to formulate or execute a strategy for predictive analytics. But despite the buzz and potential, there are obstacles for health systems that want to turn their big data into actionable insights.

Although 69 percent said they are effective at using data to describe past health events, 49 percent said they are less effective at using data to predict future outcomes. They cite a lack of interoperability and a shortage of skilled workers as barriers. “They want to put all that data to work to provide insights as we deliver care, but it is not an easy task,” said Oscar Marroquin, M.D., chief clinical analytics officer at UPMC. “They are having trouble getting access to the data in useful and standardized formats and don’t have the people in place to apply machine learning techniques.”

The top five use cases cited in the survey are:

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• Fostering more cost-effective care

• Reducing readmissions

• Identifying at-risk patients

• Driving proactive preventive care

• Improving chronic conditions management

UPMC’s journey into the analytics space was jump-started by an institutional commitment to building the analytics program and a recognition that it needed to be a more data-driven organization. “We were never able to consume our data to drive how we deliver care until we had a dedicated team to do analytics,” Marroquin said. “Traditionally these functions were done as a side job by team members in IT systems. We have found having a dedicated team is absolutely necessary.”

Mona Siddiqui, M.D., M.P.H., chief data officer at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, says she is focused on the interoperability aspect across 29 agencies. “We are looking at how we are using data across silos to create more business value for the department,” she said. “We don’t have that infrastructure in place yet,” which leads to one-off projects rather than tackling larger priorities. She is focusing on enterprise-level data governance and interoperability structures. “I think the promise of big data is real, but I don’t think a lot of organizations have thought through the tough work required to make it happen. Practitioners start to see it as buzzword rather than something creating real value. There is a lot of work that needs to happen before we see value coming from data.”

Noting the survey result about human resources, she added that “the talent pool is an incredible challenge. While we talk about sharing data and using it for business intelligence, we don’t resource our teams appropriately to fulfill that promise.”

She said the move to value-based care has made predictive analytics more important to health systems. “It is a data play from the ground up,” and now we are starting to see the real impact in terms of managing chronic conditions. “More organizations like UPMC are seeing this is about data and measurement and bringing in not just data they have, but resources and data they may not have had access to previously.”

Travis Frosch, senior director of analytics at GE Healthcare, said that hospitals generate petabytes of data per year, yet only 3 percent is tagged for analytical use later on. “So 97 percent goes down the drain,” he added, suggesting that organizations need to start small. “If you are an organization that does not have maturity in analytics, start with traditional business intelligence to build the trust and foundation to move toward higher level of analytics maturity,” Frosch said. “Pick projects that don’t require tons of data sources. If you get a good a return on investment you can open up the budget to further your analytics journey. But you have to have a unit in place to measure the impact.”

 


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