Health IT Critical for Underserved, Entire Ecosystem

The National Health IT (NHIT) Collaborative for the Underserved kicked off their Spring Summit with a briefing at the White House in April to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the Heckler Report.

This landmark task force report, published in 1985 by then-DHHS Secretary Margaret Heckler, first introduced the country to the documented health disparities that our racial and ethnic minority populations were facing.

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While we have made progress since, recent advances in technology have provided us with a unique opportunity to introduce real change, right now. To help carry this momentum, I participated in a lively panel discussion with industry leaders at the Summit, “Moving the Needle” for innovation success, where we discussed key action items that will help us deliver an effective and efficient healthcare ecosystem:

• Engage consumers to participate and manage their own health and wellness through education.

• Work with providers serving multicultural communities to increase Health IT adoption and their participation in programs that support delivery of high quality, cost effective care.

• Deliver effective educational, training and placement programs that can prepare members of multicultural communities for Health IT related careers.

• Establish and implement policies that support individual and community health empowerment and promote system transformation.

• Identify priority areas where gaps exist regarding the ability to use innovative health technologies to address disparities and plan actionable next steps.

Reactive approach to healthcare costly for payers and providers

Managing the complex health needs of the underserved has long been labor intensive and costly for both patients and clinicians. The lack of health coverage and other complications have traditionally presented significant challenges for a large portion of this population.

While the Affordable Care Act (ACA) now makes healthcare financially feasible for millions of newly insured individuals, a troubling trend may persist among some members of underserved communities who continue to only seek care after experiencing an acute health emergency, making their visits extremely costly to payers and providers. These visits usually require several medications, frequent monitoring of vitals, and lifestyle changes in diet and exercise.

They also typically require people who may live with instability in multiple aspects of life, to schedule and adhere to ongoing medical appointments and diagnostic tests. This isn’t an effective, realistic, or affordable approach to health and wellness, for payers, providers or consumers. But it can be addressed through raised awareness regarding the impact of health decisions and improved access to healthy options.

Organized data critical for effective education and outreach

Access to accurate and organized data is key when we talk about making personalized healthcare a reality. Actionable data is driving today’s cutting-edge research, leading to improvements in preventative health and wellness, as well as life-saving treatments.

Edge devices, like wearables, biosensors, and other consumer devices, can gather large amounts of data from various segments of the population, correlating behaviors related to diet and exercise. With end-to-end edge management systems, researchers and clinicians can have real-time access to locally filtered actionable data, helping them make accurate and educated discoveries on population behavior with amazing levels of insight.

Understanding where individual and population health trends are headed in advance will enable providers to customize their education and outreach services, saving time and resources from being wasted on programs with little to no impact. With electronic health records (EHR), clinicians can access a patient’s history on secure mobile devices, tracking analyzed data that impacts wellness plans and treatments.

Quality measures for prevention, risk factor screening, and chronic disease management are then identified and evaluated to provide support for practice interventions and outreach initiatives. Along with edge and embedded devices, they can play a key role in promoting self-management and self-empowerment through better communication with clinical staff.

Gathering data from the underserved population

Providers who treat underserved populations and vulnerable citizens often have less access to EHRs and other technologies that help them collect, sort and analyze data from patients. Another factor is that these clinics, hospitals and community centers are often reacting to crisis, instead of preventative outreach and education. This places greater strain on staff, patients and resources, while straining budgets that are partly limited by payer reimbursement.

So the big question is, “how do we leverage the power of data within complex populations that are often consumed by competing real-world priorities?”

It starts with education, outreach, and improved access to healthier lifestyle options. It continues by equipping clinics, hospitals and resource centers in underserved communities with the latest Health IT devices, wearables, software and services. As innovators it is our job to craft and articulate a value proposition that is so compelling, payers will realize that an initial investment in innovation, while potentially costly, will reduce expenditures significantly in the long run.

By educating and empowering all consumers to more actively participate in the management of their own wellness, the need for costly procedures, medications and repeated visits will go down, saving time and resources for payer and provider – while delivering a better “quality of life” for everyone.