Outcomes Improvement: What You Get When You Mix Good Data with Physician Engagement

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Doctor showing X rays to her patientIt’s difficult work to improve the science, knowledge, and technology of healthcare, but steady progress has been made over the past several decades. And unfortunately, efforts to improve the value of healthcare for patients and generate outcomes improvements have lagged because this, too, is difficult work.

However, according to Dale Sanders, senior vice president of strategy at Health Catalyst, this challenge is not insurmountable. In his article, “The hard work of improving healthcare outcomes,” published in the April 2015 edition of BMJ Outcomes, Dale shares a simple equation (from Michael Porter’s 2010 New England Journal of Medicine article entitled “What Is Value in Healthcare?”) used by consumers to judge the value of care they receive:

Value of healthcare = quality of healthcare / cost of healthcare

Measuring the cost of healthcare is straightforward, but how do you measure the quality of healthcare? If we define quality as the patient’s perception of quality combined with the functional health outcome of that patient, then we must measure and collect data on the functional outcomes of care. This is where healthcare is coming up short. Functional outcomes extend well beyond a follow-up visit or two. In fact, they can extend for months and years beyond an initial visit, procedure, or surgery.

Functional outcomes must be defined, quantified, and measured over time—and across the care continuum—in order to generate credible, actionable data that can be used in an outcomes and value improvement assessment.

How to Drive Outcomes Improvement

Furthermore, Sanders argues, EHRs need to be designed more like project management software with the patient as the center of the project (rather than a billing task, for example) and with tasks assigned to generate functional improvements for the patient. Despite $48 billion worth of financial incentives from the federal government to implement meaningful use of EHRs, they aren’t ideal for patient-specific outcomes monitoring and data visualization.

Two keys for overcoming this barrier to outcomes improvement are:

  1. The data warehouse for extracting, organizing, and analyzing disparate data
  2. Distributing the resulting analyses in real time, so physicians and frontline caregivers can dispense customized care for each patient

Physician Engagement Is Critical to Improvement

A third key to improving outcomes is to successfully engage physicians in redesigning care. Physicians want to improve the health of every patient, yet they are often expected to do this without vital tools and information:

  • Appropriate insight into the functional outcomes their patients are achieving
  • An evidence-based, data-driven plan for optimizing outcomes
  • A data-rich environment that includes statistical predictions of outcomes based on treatment options

Give physicians appropriate data tools to be better informed about their patients, give them the autonomy they need to feel empowered, and they will determine how best to reduce variability and improve outcomes.

Click here to read the full article on the BMJ Outcomes website, “The hard work of improving healthcare outcomes.”

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