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Study: Clinical Analytics Functionality Improves, but Workflow Integration is an Ongoing Challenge

February 5, 2016
by Heather Landi
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The development of robust data analytics capabilities that can provide comprehensive solutions for population health management is still likely several years away, but analytics vendors are rapidly improving technologies to help healthcare organizations make the transition to value-based care, according to a study by Chilmark Research.

Chilmark Research’s “2016 Clinical Analytics for Population Health Management” market trends report is the result of a study that evaluates current analytics technologies available and as well as healthcare organizations’ market needs. The most important driver of growth in data analytics is the move to value-based reimbursement (VBR) and alternatives to the traditional fee-for-service (FFS) payment mechanism, the report noted. And, these new payment models are driving heightened focus on the part of healthcare organizations (HCOs) big and small to adopt and deploy analytics solutions to improve operational performance to improve outcomes while reducing overall costs of care delivered.

According to the report, there have been rapid advances with analytics functionality in recent years, however, incorporating analytics into existing workflows remains a significant hurdle to adoption and, ultimately, keeps analytics out of the hands of clinicians who could benefit.

“While our findings reflect significant advancements in the industry since the 2014 edition, not a single vendor earned a full ‘A’ rating as no solution is currently meeting the user engagement and clinician workflow needs of the healthcare organizations (HCOs) these products are intended to serve,” Brian Murphy, analyst with Chilmark Research, wrote in a blog post about the report.

Murphy also noted that analytics vendors “are making steady progress with the functional evolution of their analytics solutions but healthcare organizations continue to struggle with the complexity of data, governance in general, and embedding analytical insights into clinical workflows.”

In the report, Chilmark profiled 20 vendors, including IBM Watson Health, independent vendors, technologies from leading electronic health record (EHR) vendors such as Cerner and Epic and payer-developed analytics tools such as Aetna's ActiveHealth Management.

The report points out that providers are currently straddling two payment regimes, fee-for-service and value-based reimbursement. The primary objective of existing analytics applications is to help healthcare organizations maximize revenue in the form of value-based payments (hitting quality targets) and traditional FFS reimbursements (closing care gaps).

“Delivering analytic insights to the point of care remains the most challenging hurdle to overcome and is arguably the weakest link in the solutions reviewed for this report,” the report authors stated.

Chilmark noted that many healthcare organizations are experiencing bottlenecks at the level of data integration and data staging for analytics and this is complicated by lack of data governance frameworks that can align stakeholder data needs across the organization. Many provider organizations struggle with the sheer amount of unstructured data and translating the richness of this data into insights, the report stated.

Murphy wrote in the blog post that another notable finding in the research is the relatively rapid progress made by EHR vendors in the last year alone, particularly noting that Cerner and Epic have expanded their capabilities just in the past year.

“They enjoy a kind of home field advantage over the independents with the large hospital and health system customers that all vendors are targeting,” he wrote.

Independent vendors, such as Arcadia, Caradigm, Geneia, Health Catalyst, HealthEC, Truven and others, are not sitting still and are “delivering highly focused solutions that can often be deployed quickly delivering rapid return on investment,” Chilmark stated in the report. And, payers continue to play a significant role as well with Aetna, Humana (Transcend Insights) and United Health Group (Optum) each taking solutions to market. Clinician Network Management vendors CareEvolution and Orion Health are each leveraging their data access and aggregation core competencies to serve this sector as well, according to the report.

The report also noted that a secondary objective of analytics solutions is to help healthcare organizations reduce medical costs (variability) and unnecessary utilization (readmissions reduction and low-acuity, non-emergent utilization). However, currently no vendor offers functionality that helps identify other forms of overutilization (e.g. imaging or antibiotic overuse, overlong skilled nursing facility (SNF) lengths of stay (LOS). “Without such tools, HCOs only have a way to assess the tip of the overutilization iceberg,” Murphy wrote.

The Chilmark Research study also addresses how advances in data analytics technologies are raising a number of enterprise data warehouse (EDW) and architectural issues that need to be addressed in the data-analytics strategic framework. As value-based care requires expanded capabilities, many organizations are shifting database strategies to more flexible architectures.  “While the cloud is still a matter of concern for many CIOs on the security front, we do expect adoption of cloud computing to accelerate in the coming years and analytics will be one of the drivers of adoption,” the report stated.

Murphy concluded in his blog post that there is still a lot of improvement to be made in the analytics space.

“But the market is clearly pushing vendors in the right direction, and major players are investing heavily in updating their capabilities. This is still early days for clinical analytics, with data collection alone still being figured out, with many other hurdles yet to be conquered,” he wrote.

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