Pioneer ACO officials: Success will hinge on IT

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For pioneer accountable care organizations, IT has proved valuable in lowering costs and improving outcomes and care, but implementation has not been without its challenges, according to an article published in Clinical Innovation & Technology.

"I liken Pioneer ACOs to a poker hand," said Brian Hodgkins, executive vice president of Heritage ACO--a pioneer ACO covering 90,000 beneficiaries in central and southern California. "We're starting to see that data are everything."

Hodgkins predicted that data and IT systems probably will be "the most strategic parts of any ACO," adding success will hinge on an organization's ability to both "manage data" and "understand population management shifts and risk stratification."

Still, the article pointed out that the move to a new electronic health record system was challenging for the Michigan Pioneer ACO, which encompasses 800 primary care physicians (PCPs) and 1,200 specialists who cover 23,000 Medicare beneficiaries.

"Change is always hard," Timothy Peterson, medical director of the Michigan Pioneer ACO, told Clinical Innovation + Technology. "We had a homegrown EMR that was customized to our clinical workflows and our physicians were well versed in how to use that, but it lacked a lot of functionary that is necessary for Meaningful Use."

Peterson said it's "increasingly clear" that EHRs must figure out a way to talk to one another, and different offices having different systems won't be a lasting solution. Beacon Health, a Pioneer ACO that includes more than 14,000 Medicare beneficiaries from the Eastern Maine Healthcare System (EMHS) also cited interoperability as an issue, according to the article.

Earlier this month at the Government Health IT Conference & Exhibition in Washington, D.C., four leaders from Beacon Community programs in central Pennsylvania, Southeast Minnesota and Western New York gave insights into their progress, particularly with regard to patient engagement efforts via IT.

Teresa Younkin, who serves as community engagement lead for the Keystone Beacon Community Project, said her program's goals were to increase flu shot adherence and educate patients about finding health information online. For their group, it was all about listening.

"Technology alone is not always the answer," Younkin said, after telling a story about struggling to get older patients online. "Allow partners to shape and align their use of technology with their organization goals."

To learn more:
- read the Clinical Innovation & Technology article

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