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Health Leaders Go Beyond EHRs To Tackle Value-Based Care

Posted on March 30, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

In the broadest sense, EHRs were built to manage patient populations — but largely one patient at a time. As a result, it’s little wonder that they aren’t offering much support for value-based care as is, as a recent report from Sage Growth Partners suggests.

Sage spoke with 100 healthcare executives to find out what they saw as their value-based care capabilities and obstacles. Participants included leaders from a wide range of entities, including an ACO, several large physician practices and a midsize integrated delivery network.

The overall sense Sage seems to have gotten from its research was that while value-based care contracts are beginning to pay off, health execs are finding it difficult support these contacts using the EHRs they have in place. While their EHRs can produce quality reports, most don’t offer data aggregation and analytics, risk stratification, care coordination or tools to foster patient and clinician engagement, the report notes.

To get the capabilities they need for value-based contracting, health organizations are layering population health management solutions on top of their EHRs. Though these additional PHM tools may not be fully mature, health executives told Sage that there already seeing a return on such investments.

This is not necessarily because these organizations aren’t comfortable with their existing EHR. The Sage study found that 65% of respondents were somewhat or highly unlikely to replace their EHR in the next three years.

However, roughly half of the 70% of providers who had EHRs for at least three years also have third-party PHM tools in place as well. Also, 64% of providers said that EHRs haven’t delivered many important value-based contracting tools.

Meanwhile, 60% to 75% of respondents are seeking value-based care solutions outside their EHR platform. And they are liking the results. Forty-six percent of the roughly three-quarters of respondents who were seeing ROI with value-based care felt that their third-party population PHM solution was essential to their success.

Despite their concerns, healthcare organizations may not feel impelled to invest in value-based care tools immediately. Right now, just 5% of respondents said that value-based care accounted for over 50% of their revenues, while 62% said that such contracts represented just 0 to 10% of their revenues. Arguably, while the growth in value-based contracting is continuing apace, it may not be at a tipping point just yet.

Still, traditional EHR vendors may need to do a better job of supporting value-based contracting (not that they’re not trying). The situation may change, but in the near term, health executives are going elsewhere when they look at building their value-based contracting capabilities. It’s hard to predict how this will turn out, but if I were an enterprise EHR vendor, I’d take competition with population health management specialist vendors very seriously.

Are We Going About Population Health The Wrong Way?

Posted on March 29, 2018 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

For most of us, the essence population health management is focusing on patients who have already experienced serious adverse health events. But what if that doesn’t work? At least one writer suggests that though it may seem counterintuitive, the best way to reduce needless admissions and other costly problems is to focus on patients identified by predictive health data rather than “gut feelings” or chasing frequent flyers.

Shantanu Phatakwala, managing director of research and development for Evolent Health, argues that focusing on particularly sick patients won’t reduce costs nearly as much as hospital leaders expect, as their assumptions don’t withstand statistical scrutiny.

Today, physicians and care management teams typically target patients with a standard set of characteristics, including recent acute events, signs of health and stability such as recent inpatient admissions and chronic conditions such as diabetes, COPD and heart disease. These metrics come from a treatment mindset rather than a predictive one, according to Phatakwala.

This approach may make sense intellectually, but in reality, it may not have the desired effect. “The reality is that patients who have already had major acute events tend to stabilize, and their future utilization is not as high,” he writes. Meanwhile, health leaders are missing the chance to prevent serious illness in an almost completely different cohort of patients.

To illustrate his point, he tells the story of a commercial entity managing 19,000 lives which began a population health management project. In the beginning, health leaders worked with the data science team, which identified 353 people whose behavior suggested that they were headed for trouble.

The entity then focused its efforts on 253 of the targeted cohort for short-term personal attention, including both personal goals (such as walking their daughter down the aisle at her wedding later that year) and health goals (such as losing 25 pounds). Care managers and nurses helped them develop plans to achieve these goals through self-management.

Meanwhile, the care team overrode data analytics recommendations regarding the remaining 100 patients and did not offer them specialized care interventions during the six-month program.  Lo and behold, care for the patients who didn’t get enrolled in health management programs cost 75% more than for patients who were targeted, at a total cost of $1.4 million. Whew!

None of this is to suggest that intuition is useless. However, this case illustrates the need for trusting data over intuition in some situations. As Phatakwala notes, this can call for a leap of faith, as on the surface it makes more sense to focus on patients who are already sick. But until clinicians feel comfortable working with predictive analytics data, health systems may never achieve the population health management results they seek, he contends. And he seems to have a good point.

Population Health Management Is No Fad

Posted on August 6, 2012 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare branding and communications expert with more than 25 years of industry experience. and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also worked extensively healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

I have a bone to pick with you, Mr. Paul Cerrato of InformationWeek. Your recent column suggesting that population health management is a fad is well-argued, true. But I think you’re missing the forest for the trees.

In his column, Cerrato argues that population health management (PHM) is a trendy concept which is being pushed down physicians’ throats without docs having the tools to pull it off.

He relies partly on a report from the Institute for Health Technology Transformation, which argues that providers need not only EMRs, but also telehealth platforms, electronic registries, data management software and analytics systems to conduct PHM. There’s some truth to that.

And he notes that even existing tools, like the increasingly ubiquitous EHR, don’t have the ability to interoperate with other systems and so don’t have any information about care outside of a given provider’s practice. Again, that’s true.

But Cerrato seems to think that we’re putting the cart ahead of the horse to engage in PHM until all of that tech is in place.

Here’s where he loses me:

Physicians have been trained to provide individual care, not population care, and while PHM proponents might counter that population care is simply individual care multiplied by X, it’s more complicated than that. Many of the interventions needed to improve the health of a large population fall more into the realm of education and public safety than they do into medical practice.

While physicians may indeed have been trained to provide individual care, it’s time they embrace PHM basics. Simply screening the chronically ill patients get preventive care, if nothing else, isn’t beyond the reach of any practice with an EMR.

And as for fobbing off the population health improvement on public education, well, just tell me this: just how successful was Nancy Reagan’s “Just say no to drugs” campaign? (That one was about as hip as your grandmother’s nightgown, wasn’t it?)  While some interventions may work from a governmental level, there’s a graveyard of others that never even enter the consciousness of individuals.

No, I refuse to believe that doctors can’t look at their patients as a population until they can do big-time data aggregation and the like. They need to think about their patients as a population now, especially PCPs, not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it feeds back into daily practice to know what common patterns emerge.

The new, emerging emphasis on population health may challenge physicians, but I think they’re up to it, especially if hospitals support them in their efforts. Even if what we do now is a pale shadow of what we can do over time, there’s no excuse not to get started.  PHM will be a critical part of medicine’s future, so let’s step to it.