Information Management and the Future of Health Care

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An estimated 50,000 people waited on the border of the Unassigned Lands of the Oklahoma Territory on April 22, 1889, to claim their lot within the 2 million acres being opened for settlement. Later that day, town and personal lots had been staked, street plans had been laid out, the formation of a municipal government was underway and commerce had begun. It would be known as the great Oklahoma Land Rush of 1889.

Fast forward to 2010 and a new type of “land rush.” Since the passing of the Affordable Care Act and the implementation of Meaningful Use, the level of investment in health care and health care technology has skyrocketed, with opportunists hoping to “claim” a piece of value resulting from the expected legislative-driven change. But while the settlers in Oklahoma ultimately knew what they were pursuing, the outcome of the “land rush” in U.S. health care is uncertain, both for providers as they move to “stake their claim” and for the industry as a whole.

To answer the call, there has been an explosion of investments in new technologies and advances in data informatics and meta-analysis. Emerging offerings that integrate clinical, financial and operational data and include sophisticated analytic capabilities can unlock greater efficiency. Clinical informatics software can identify patterns in care models and outcomes as well as more effective treatment pathways. Mobile applications can enable patients to access care more conveniently and engage in their own health maintenance and care more easily. A clear message is being painted for the industry’s future: If you are in the health care delivery business, you are also in the information management business.

There are four key takeaways for health care providers as they consider their journey toward becoming an information management company:

1. “Big data” is really about care management: Effective management of health and outcomes requires tested care management practices and seamless care coordination, impossible without technology but meaningless without human and organizational buy-in. For many organizations, care management efforts will center on enabling superior episodic care management, which will yield economic benefits under traditional reimbursement models and also differentiate a provider as a contributor to a population health management effort in the future.

2. Consumer engagement is as much about customer service as it is about new tools for access: Providers need to first focus on optimally serving each patients’ clearly articulated basic needs, many of which can be enhanced with better utilization of information and technology. From there, they must develop targeted strategies to address the unique needs of each patient community. Leveraging technology to deliver on those strategies, both for common and more unique patient preferences, will be a core capability that will yield significant returns in a traditional care environment.

3. Organizations will need to bring “unsexy” back: Organizations need to continuously reassess how technology can help solve many “unsexy” problems – such as redesigning their existing operations and how to use technology to support new processes and capabilities. Cost and revenue management will be even more essential under future risk-based payment models. Additionally, organizations must not only implement, but also integrate these technologies into day-to-day management and decision-making. Over time, will need to leverage real-time access to operational metrics in order to dynamically adjust their operations and realize even greater efficiencies, further reducing unit costs, and further elevating value creation.

4. A data-driven culture is imperative: Providers must begin to adopt and promote a culture that values and rewards innovation (in all forms, including technological) to improve care delivery. Simply purchasing a technology will not translate into an organization embracing and effectively using that technology. However, changing culture takes time and can only be achieved through consistent reinforcement of a set of organizational principles. Organizations can begin this process by insisting that everything that matters be measured, and holding leaders accountable for monitoring and managing with those metrics.

Successful health care delivery organizations of the future will need to be highly skilled information management companies. To develop a portfolio of initiatives to consider, providers will need to monitor the national delivery landscape to learn from the successes and failures of others. They will also need to advance their abilities to quickly and effectively pilot new technology capabilities. With any initiative pursued, detailed expectations and timelines must be defined and efforts should be constantly monitored and measured to ensure the desired outcomes are achieved and to justify continued investment.

Just as the optimal land claim was different for each settler, the optimal investments for providers in this new health care land rush is no different. Successful providers will need to thoughtfully invest in technologies and capabilities that materially advance their unique direction.

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