Aug 13 2021

HIMSS21: Making Data Work for Healthcare

Providers wade through vast amounts of information to deliver care, but improvements can be made, said HIMSS21 experts.

Healthcare organizations have access to an immense flow of data, from sources including electronic health records, the Internet of Medical Things and devices. The work to translate that data into an actionable care continuum for the patient, provider and payer is ongoing.

Experts at digital sessions of the HIMSS21 conference shared their knowledge on what it takes to make data work for healthcare systems, move toward interoperability and commit to health equity.

Making Data Actionable for Healthcare Organizations

During a digital panel session, the experts first answered this question: If the healthcare industry is relying on data more than ever before, why haven’t costs gone down?

Tej Anand, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business, said that the U.S. has the most complicated health system in the world, with high administrative and patient costs, and that there’s a lack of incentive to keep people healthy.

Betty Jo Rocchio, senior vice president and system chief nursing officer at Mercy, agreed, adding that patients struggle to navigate the system.

Wilson To, the head of worldwide healthcare, life sciences and genomic at Amazon Web Services, raised the issue of unstructured data. How can providers and patients make sense of data and make it usable across all settings?

HIMSS Data Panel

The panel for the “Reducing the Cost of Care With Data-Driven Care Management” digital session discussed the siloed nature of the U.S. healthcare system.

“We see a lot of unstructured data that’s out there. To what degree are they looking for new solutions to put some structure into that, to make it more usable or find ways of removing these data silos that exist within these organizations in order to make it more interoperable, for example?” To added.

Payers have the most data that goes unshared across the spectrum, Rocchio said, and stakeholders aren’t working together on a standardized data set.

“It’s not helping us across the continuum of care, but it’s siloing us on purpose,” she said. “We’re getting exactly what we designed.”

The fragmented data ecosystems within healthcare have produced what Anand called “the three Rs of efficiency.”

“We do a lot of redundant work — everybody does the same work. We do a lot of rework, because when everyone does the same work, they do it differently,” Anand said. “And then, when we’ve realized we’ve looked at it differently, we rework it. And then, even after we rework it, we don’t agree with each other, because you’ve got these siloed ecosystems. Then, we reconcile. And that’s how we spend all our money.”

MORE FROM HIMSS21: Anticipate the threat to enhance healthcare cybersecurity.

Why Interoperability Is Important to Healthcare Delivery

“Data is so important to the workflow of medicine,” said Dr. Mujeeb Basit, associate chief medical informatics officer and assistant professor at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “We’ve spent so much time creating complex solutions to solve downstream data problems, when in reality, we should be spending our time fixing the upstream data access.”

He highlighted the difficulties of creating quality metrics for every department in his organization and said improvements in institutionwide foundational systems are needed.

Healthcare organizations must design strategies to increase data liquidity and elevate meaningful information sharing among stakeholders seamlessly inside and outside of hospital walls, Basit added.

During a separate spotlight keynote session, Cerner President Donald Trigg spoke on the strategy behind excellent care delivery inside and outside the hospital.

Dynamic forces of change, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, are rapidly reorganizing the healthcare industry and models of care delivery, Trigg said, so that leaders are focused on not only solving today’s challenges those of the next five years and beyond.

HIMSS Network Strategies

Cerner President Donald Trigg presents during the spotlight keynote digital session, “Provider Network Strategies— Delivering Excellence Inside & Outside the Hospital.”

He said the three major cyclical forces guiding that change include rising expectations from consumers, who are demanding greater strategies around cost, convenience and experience; blurring lines between payers and providers; and governmental policies that need to be updated as an increasing population of older adults move into Medicare. 

“A central dimension of what it actually looks like to think through strategies around provider network design, obviously, is interoperability, and it’s been such a focal point in our industry over the course of the last decade-plus, particularly within the U.S. market,” Trigg said.

In a call to action, he said that missing elements of the regulatory framework, such as a patient data bill of rights, need to be updated. Health IT should allow for the open exchange of data, to ensure relevant patient information is accessible to the entities and individuals supporting the patient, he added.  

Moving Toward Equity in Healthcare

Blue Cross Blue Shield Association President and CEO Kim Keck outlined the importance of data sharing to addressing health inequities. “We can create lasting change. As an industry, we should commit to sharing insights that provide transparency to the prevalence and magnitude of health disparities,” she said.

Data collection for information on race, ethnicity and language needs to be improved and standardized across the board, she added. Building trust among patients and committing to patient data privacy will also be an ongoing effort.

“We need to put these pieces together to really create that interoperable healthcare system we’ve been talking about for some period of time, to really make a difference, to help improve care delivery, to make it easier for people to access the information that’s most meaningful to them and to make the right decisions for their own health,” Keck said.

She highlighted the partnership between Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, Alleghany Health Network and Mercy Virtual for a virtual ICU program for patients in rural Pennsylvania, stressing the importance of expanding access within rural communities. 

“By using video and real-time communication technology, the virtual ICU program has led to 35 percent lower mortality rates and a 30 percent reduction in time spent in the ICU,” Keck said.

The standardization and enhanced use of data can help guide health equity efforts, especially when combined with accessible technologies.

“When I think about the future, I imagine a healthcare system that creates a more integrated, affordable and seamless experience for patients and providers,” Keck said.

Keep this page bookmarked for our ongoing virtual coverage of HIMSS21. Follow us on Twitter at @HealthTechMag and join the conversation using the hashtags #HIMSS21 and #CDWHIMSS.

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