healthcaretechoutlook

At Last, New Tools Available to Improve EHR Systems for Population Health Management

By Edward Clarke, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Arizona Care Network

Edward Clarke, MD, Chief Medical Officer, Arizona Care Network

It has been a long and winding road through healthcare’s digital transformation. This is particularly true when it comes to electronic health records.

A lot has happened since the first EHR system was introduced in 1972. In 2004, citing the U.S. healthcare system’s long and distinguished history of innovation, President George W. Bush outlined a comprehensive plan for computerizing health records. Five years later, President Barack Obama pushed the initiative forward with the Meaningful Use program as part of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act.

Today, virtually all medical practices and hospital systems use EHRs. Yet 14 years after healthcare’s digital transformation began in earnest, the transition from paper to electronic patient records remains a great source of frustration among physicians, healthcare leaders, and IT professionals.

While some laud EHR’s ability to give doctors relatively quick and reliable access to patient medical histories, test results and prescription records, others lament its redundancies, inefficiencies and other administrative burdens. In fact, an EHR usability and safety analysis funded by the American Medical Association and led by MedStar Health’s National Center for Human Factors in Healthcare earlier this year, confirms that the design, development, and implementation of EHRs must be improved to ensure their usability for clinicians and safety for patients.

EHRs are not a golden ticket, but I believe they have tremendous potential to help physicians and hospital systems deliver high quality, affordable and transparent patient care.

Undeniably, EHR systems require a sizeable investment, but money isn’t the core of the problem. It’s that after more than a decade of development, scores of EHR systems in hospitals and independent medical practices are still unable to talk to each other, limiting their ability to deliver actionable data when it comes to population health.

The problem isn’t limited to the United States, either. Earlier this year, Black Book Research revealed that 90 percent of the 11,838 doctors, healthcare administrators, technology managers and clinical leaders surveyed from around the world said they don’t know what makes a highly interoperable EHR.

Thankfully, the tide is beginning to turn with new tools that are giving once incompatible EHR systems the ability to speak to each other, and thus deliver the full patient picture needed to deliver highly coordinated care. This is especially true at accountable care organizations like Arizona Care Network that are employing a variety of technologies and systems to move EHR systems forward in an effort to achieve the Triple Aim.

Among them are cloud-based technologies that are helping to guide patient referrals.

Last year, our team at Arizona Care Network launched a comprehensive referral management program. We partnered with a vendor to launch their cloud-based program and customized it to give primary care providers valuable information on the full range of specialists in our vast network, including their insurance contracts, time to the first action, patient access to care and patient experience metrics. This information has made a measurable difference in coordinating care within the network and delivers a better referral experience for providers and patients alike.

Another solution lies in the game-changing technology called Blockchain, which is moving from theory to real-life application in healthcare by creating a real-time, dispersed record of online transactions or exchanges that can be stored and shared with targeted users via a network of personal devices.

Arizona Care Network and the Solve.Care Foundation are putting Blockchain technology into practice with a proprietary platform, the ACN Care Wallet, used to distribute rewards and payments to physicians in a timely, convenient and transparent way. In phase II, we will offer a digital identification card for patients allowing them to schedule appointments, confirm authorization for treatment, and share their health records and benefits information. The beauty of the Blockchain is that protocols are universal, so applications will be compatible. This technology will significantly reduce the administrative burden that providers face in confirming eligibility, scheduling appointments and getting paid.

At Arizona Care Network, we utilize the Athena cloud-based population health platform to monitor patient events, claims paid on members, utilization patterns, and performance on clinical quality measures. This platform is fed by various HIEs, claims files form payers, some lab and clinical interfaces, and direct entry of clinical data by the network.

We have partnered with Athena to ensure actionable clinical flows between the platforms, enabling us to make more timely decisions around managing the network, and more importantly, giving the providers, data that could positively impact decisions they make at the point of care.

These two worlds will be coming together soon as we partner with Athena on ensuring actionable clinical flows between the platforms, enabling us to make more timely decisions around managing the network, and more importantly, giving the providers data that could positively impact decisions they make at the point of care.

Additional emerging technologies are focused on improving patient engagement and creating data analytics that ties EHR data with patient insurance claims and lab results.

Although the evolution has taken some time, these developments are proof that healthcare’s digital transformation is gaining steam.

In my view, such developments and new technologies are destined to relieve administrative burdens associated, while providing meaningful and actionable data to improve the health of our nation’s entire population.