Two decades ago, my personal and professional lives collided when my wife was diagnosed with cancer. Together we experienced the lack of transparency and synchronization across the health care continuum. That changed the lens through which I viewed my role in the health care technology community from profession to purpose.
While our story has a happy ending, many others like it do not. I’ve since dedicated my career to striving for innovations in health care to ensure that the health of the ones we hold close isn’t threatened by a lack of visible and actionable information.
This week, I and tens of thousands of people like me who are interested in the latest in health care technology are in Orlando, Fla., attending the 2019 Health Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) conference. Its theme, “Champions of Health Unite,” seems fitting as the industry reaches a tipping point where consumers are demanding that the health care industry works to make their journeys to health and wellness more like finding a mobile app for any need imaginable.
In past years, HIMSS hasn’t always felt like it had patients and caregivers at the center of its universe. I’m hopeful that this year the conference sets the tone for the next big innovations that will drive improvements for patient and caregiver experiences. It shouldn’t take a life-changing diagnosis to see how the health care system can improve, especially amid our present-day information and communication revolution.
The dominant theme at HIMSS in 2017 and 2018 was population health — improving the health of defined populations, such as people over 65 at risk of stroke or those with conditions that compromise the immune system such as cancer or HIV infection. For health care technology service providers, a focus on population health mostly meant trying to give clinicians more information about the groups of individuals they are accountable for. This required sophisticated analyses of insurance claims, information from electronic health records, and information about the socioeconomic factors that influence patients’ health in order to divide them into risk populations.
Effectively executing a comprehensive population health strategy is no small feat. It requires coordinated care teams, solid outreach programs, and transparency with information. But it is essential to ensuring better health for patients as well as better reimbursement for services rendered by providers (health systems, doctors, and the like). Keep in mind that in today’s evolving reimbursement landscape, providers are increasingly being paid based on their ability to deliver low-cost, high-quality care.
But many of us are ready to hear the next chapter of this story and better understand what population health management will mean on a personal level.
I expect precision medicine to generate a lot of attention in Orlando this week. It’s a rather elegant evolution — we’ve been steadily making progress in unlocking the information that providers need to more efficiently care for groups of patients. But what about giving them the tools to optimize the efficiency of therapies based on the unique makeup of individual patients?
Consumers are already taking the first step toward adopting precision medicine (you or someone you know probably bought a DNA kit or got one for a holiday or birthday sometime in the last few years). As health technology service providers, it’s our responsibility to use the knowledge we have from population health management to make certain that each patient gets the right medicine at the right time to ensure the best response.
That means we need to find ways to couple the encounter data (facts and figures generated by providers documenting patients’ conditions and the treatments offered to them) with the genetic data. That would allow clinicians and researchers to predict more accurately which treatment and prevention strategies for a specific disease will work best for which groups of people.
I also look forward to seeing the beginnings of a robust app marketplace in health information technology. This would include purpose-built apps that sit on top of the electronic health record and offer information supporting precision medicine. Such apps would add value to a platform that, so far, has not lived up to expectations.
I suspect that at HIMSS — and beyond — more technology service providers will try to differentiate themselves by how they help doctors make fewer errors, leverage the latest clinical decision-making and, most importantly, turn their backs on the computer and directly engage with the patient, at least for a few additional minutes each visit. This is good for patients, but it could also be good for physicians, possibly helping reduce the burnout that has been chronicled in STAT and other publications.
My employer will join many others at the conference this year in discussions about how to reduce noise and embed more meaningful information into clinicians’ workflows to make their lives easier. But what about harnessing this information so patients can take better care of themselves? Or giving this information to caregivers at home? These, too, are legitimate workflows, and addressing them represents the next frontier in health care.
Conferences like HIMSS often provide the first look at innovations in medicine. I’m hoping that those innovations will have patients and their caregivers at the center.
Leigh Anderson is president of performance services at Premier Inc., a health care improvement company.