5 critical considerations for ACOs looking to get the most out of their patient data

In Tips & Tricks by dan.bergner

ACOs are now grappling with the CMS data handed over to them at the start of the year. As we write this, ACOs around the country are facing what continues to be one of the biggest challenges to population health management: sifting through reams of patient information to make sense of it quickly and efficiently.

A diverse data landscape

How each ACO achieves this goal will vary significantly. They all share a common mandate to improve patient outcomes while driving down costs, but often the similarities end there. Size, capability, capacity, vision: All play a role in how ACOs are tackling the complex task of turning patient data into the actionable and insightful information they need to achieve their objectives.

How One ACO Transformed Their Care. All in the Cloud.

Residing at one end of the data spectrum are ACOs that pursue the path of least resistance. They use sophisticated spreadsheets and/or data already living inside theirs and their partner providers’ EHR systems to share population health information.

At the other end of the spectrum are the (usually much larger) ACOs with warehouses of Big Data. These ACOs benefit from aggregated information across a variety of data sources. Their systems provide insights into optimized care for both individual patients and the populations as a whole.

While the latter might be held up as the industry ideal, most ACOs will sit somewhere between spreadsheets and digital warehouses. Many utilize some form of patient risk stratification and care management software in conjunction with existing EHRs and data streams.

At this point in the evolution of ACOs, there’s no question that Big Data will be vital to the future —but how it is best harnessed to meet the individual needs and expectations of each ACO will continue to vary.

Some universal rules

Despite this variety, some methods of data management have historically proven more successful than others in extracting what’s needed to achieve the triple aim.

Through our work with some of the leading ACOs across the country, we have identified five key considerations for all ACOs looking for the best ways to organize, activate and leverage their data:

  1. It should be easy to deploy.

    No question: the faster an ACO can get on top of its data the better. Because success is so tightly linked to cost savings, time is of the essence when going from raw data to risk stratification to care management.

    For these reasons, finding a data and care management solution that is designed to integrate with an ACO’s existing internal and external systems is vital. For starters, it ensures the specific mission of the ACO is being upheld. Just as importantly, fully customizable population health software that couples risk stratification with care management can be fast to implement and can have ACOs up and running in weeks versus months.

  2. It should be collaborative.

    By their very nature, ACOs must successfully share patient information across providers. For this reason, many ACOs are now, at a minimum, working with interoperable EMRs, which ensure shared visibility of patient records and updates across providers.

    Cloud-based population health management software systems achieve the same but often with more user-friendly and intuitive interfaces and additional collaborative features like live chats and real-time patient engagement. They also link patient information and risk profiles with care management tasks: Users can reduce costs and improve care by coordinating assessments and appointment scheduling across providers.

  3. It should be focused on desired outcomes.

    Many systems can aggregate and analyze Big Data; many can assess risk based on established parameters; and many can manage the data associated with populations of people. Few can do all of the above, and even fewer can do so in a way that is focused on ACO-specific needs.

    ACOs still occupy just a small part of the managed care market, and so it’s important ACO leaders interrogate any solution that claims to analyze Big Data to their benefit. For ACOs specifically, the data analysis is only as useful as its ability to improve patient care while reducing costs.

  4. It should be simple and easy-to-use.

    In this day and age, a simple and clear interface should be the expectation, not the exception for any digital solution. For ACOs, this translates to everyone in the care network being able to quickly, easily and seamlessly interact with the right patient data at the right time.

    Mobile readiness, familiar and simple functionality, secure and reliable access. All will significantly enhance the experience of care team members and patients alike—and all should be key considerations for ACOs as they decide what to do with their data.

  5. It should be smart.

    Effectively managing and analyzing population health information is vital to an ACO’s success. At a minimum, this means finding a solution that effectively aggregates existing data, offers an interoperable and collaborative vehicle to facilitate care, and provides insights that inform both the care of the individual and the care of the population overall.

    For ACOs looking to take their capabilities to the next level, integration with more cutting edge data sources is possible and can be surprisingly cost effective. Pulling ADT information from HIEs, for example, gives ACOs real-time patient information, which can significantly and directly impact cost and quality of care.

The healthcare data industry has come on leaps and bounds in recent years. As it continues to expand access to vital patient information, the opportunity for ACOs to harness Big Data will grow alongside it.

It’s up to individual ACOs to make good decisions now regarding their data management. These choices will ensure they are effective now and flexible to change down the road.

Tom Boosinger is the founder and CEO of Synapse, population health and care management software built on the Salesforce platform.