As some of you will know, the ONC’s Shared Nationwide Interoperability Roadmap’s goal is to create a “nationwide learning health system.” In this system, individuals, providers and organizations will freely share health information, but more importantly, will share that information in “closed loops” which allow for continuous learning and care improvement.
When I read about this model – which is backed by the Institute of Medicine — I thought it sounded interesting, but didn’t think it terribly practical. Recently, though, I stumbled upon an experiment which attempts to bring this approach to life. And it’s more than just unusual — it seems to be successful.
What I’m talking about is a pilot study, done by a team from Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University, which involved implementing a “local” learning health system. During the pilot, team members used EHR data to create personalized treatments for patients based on data from others with similar conditions and risk factors.
To date, building a learning health system has been very difficult indeed, largely because integrating EHRs between multiple hospital systems is very difficult. For that reason, researchers with the two organizations decided to implement a “local” learning health system, according to a press statement from Nationwide Children’s.
To build the local learning health system, the team from Nationwide Children’s and Ohio State optimized the EHR to support their efforts. They also relied on a “robust” care coordination system which sat at the core of the EHR. The pilot subjects were a group of 131 children treated through the hospital’s cerebral palsy program.
Children treated in the 12-month program, named “Learn From Every Patient,” experienced a 43% reduction in total inpatient days, a 27% reduction in inpatient admissions, a 30% reduction in emergency department visits and a 29% reduction in urgent care visits.
The two institutions spent $225,000 to implement the pilot during the first year. However, the return on this investment was dramatic. Researchers concluded that the program cut healthcare costs by $1.36 million. This represented a savings of about $6 for each dollar invested.
An added benefit from the program was that the clinicians working in the CP clinic found that this approach to care simplified documentation, which saved time and made it possible for them to see more patients during each session, the team found.
Not surprisingly, the research team thinks this approach has a lot of potential. “This method has the potential to be an effective complementary or alternative strategy to the top-down approach of learning health systems,” the release said. In other words, maybe bottom-up, incremental efforts are worth a try.
Given these results, it’d be nice to think that we’ll have full interoperability someday, and that we’ll be able to scale up the learning health system approach to the whole US. In the mean time, it’s good to see at least a single health system make some headway with it.