Data and analytics
Two-thirds of survey respondents (66%) expect to invest in integrating clinical data across the care continuum, and 53% expect to add to their data analytics capability. While the investments are likely to be substantial, Steinberg observes that access to data is a necessary component of population health management. "It's not just the expense," he says. "There has to be cooperation from the payers. Providers need data from payers. Some payers are providing it, some payers aren't. Some payers are providing it in a form that's usable; others are providing it in a form that winds up just chewing up time while you try to make sense of it."
More than half of the respondents (56%) say their organizations need training in data analytics, and 44% need training in population statistics. Nash describes how physicians might be guided by a system with well-developed registry and reporting functionality. "As a physician, I ought to be able to assess instantly and graphically how I'm doing in the care of a population of patients and how my care compares to a peer group at the local, regional, and perhaps even national level." Getting useful functionality requires more than buying and installing software. "I'm going to need a whole new type of information technologist," Nash says.
The expectation that IT tools will be available to monitor and guide population health activities on several levels is what will help Lancaster General's pending ACO function as a population health training ground. Says McGowan, "The accountable care organization serves as the vehicle, but we are doing it because of the new intelligence we will gather around the opportunity to improve not only value, but quality." Still, McGowan is concerned about software costs. "Because they're just becoming available, the tools are very costly."
Population health management presents many challenges, particularly with data and data analytics, new and unfamiliar partners or working relationships, and pressure to reduce costs and increase efficiency. But the overarching requirement when examining population health is that healthcare institutions have to prepare themselves to bear risk. And at its core, the requirement to bear risk is financial in nature, so all of the tendrils of population health management must be examined first from a financial perspective. For some, the financial examination may be the grim task of examining sustainability.
This article appears in the October issue of HealthLeaders magazine.