Technology key to population health management, ACO maturation

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As healthcare shifts to model emphasizing more accountable care, technology will be an indispensable part of the equation, according to a report unveiled this week by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2). The report, Population Health Management: A Roadmap for Provider-based Automation in a New Era of Healthcare, details the ways in which providers must embrace technology, and leverage it for increased efficiencies and improved outcomes.

At the heart of the population health trend will be patient medical homes, according to report co-author Paul Grundy, IBM's global director of healthcare transformation. Managing those homes, he says, will require providers to master and optimize advanced technologies.

"Patient-centered medical homes based on primary care are the building blocks of accountable care, and information technology is the key to successful medical homes," Grundy says in an announcement. "With the help of registries, electronic health records, health information exchanges, and other tools for care coordination and automation, healthcare providers can manage their populations effectively and keep their patients as healthy as possible."

Connie White Delaney, Ph.D., Dean of the University of Minnesota's School of Nursing, echoes Grundy's sentiments, adding that the overall agenda of population health management is for communication, delivery of service and patient engagement all to be seamless.

"To meet those goals, it is essential that we utilize mobile health and telehealth technologies," Delaney says in the report. "We must also maximize information exchange among the different care providers and other components of our health system."

Accountable care goals also include cost-reduction, according to a recently published report by the Commonwealth Fund. Changing the underlying payment structure (ostensibly to ACOs and other outcomes-oriented methodologies), and implementing health technology could ultimately save the U.S. $184 billion by 2016, the report predicts.

Technology offers a host of opportunities on both health and cost fronts, according to the Commonwealth Fund report. In particular, it will allow providers to identify populations with chronic or multiple conditions, segregate those populations for specialized treatment, and monitor the outcomes over time. It also can provide direct care tools, with remote monitoring of patient status to identify potential exacerbations before they become expensive ER visits or hospital stays, the authors explain. Mobile technologies, they say, can provide automated messaging and prompting that motivates patients toward better health choices and behaviors.

Providers, though, need to reach a comfort level with technology-enhanced care, the iHT2 report's authors insist. With too few providers and an aging population, they simply will have to use electronic tools to spread their services over a wider patient population. E-mail communication, video visits, etc., will one day be the norm for physicians and nurses, the authors predict.

"The primary care practice of the future will have a workflow very different from that of today," the report says. "Instead of being based around one-to-one encounters between patients and providers, workflow will include phone visits, e-mail consultations, group visits, and encounters with a variety of care team members. Out-of-office contacts will become the norm, and there will be fewer office visits."

To learn more:
- here's the Institute's announcement
- read the Commonwealth Fund's report

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