Let’s All Meet at the Intersection of Population Health and Individual Wellbeing

The third annual Intel Health & Life Sciences Innovation Summit webcast series is coming Oct. 23. These online sessions will feature panel discussions with experts on the next wave of healthcare technology and personalized medicine, plus live Q&A so you can ask questions to those who are on the forefront of healthcare transformation. Register for the webcast series here and reserve your spot for these hour long broadcasts.

Leading up to the online webcasts, we have asked industry leaders to share some of their thoughts on the future of healthcare technology. Below is a guest blog from Cliff Bleustein, MD, MBA, Managing Director & Global Head of Healthcare Consulting Dell Services - Healthcare & Life Sciences, on the widespread adoption of clinical data warehouses and how analytic tools holds the promise of better health, not just better healthcare. Let us know what you think and remember to sign up for the webcasts.

Now that the nation has invested billions of dollars in electronic medical records, it’s time to start looking for ways to make a better return on that investment. To date, we’ve seen some gains in quality of care as a result of EMR use, but not much in the way of cost savings or improvements in the health of the U.S. population. But realists in the industry never expected EMRs alone to rescue a health system in which poorly managed chronic conditions and health costs are constantly increasing.

EMRs are, by and large, a tool for creating a new system, not a new system in and of themselves. And you have to go way beyond basic EMR adoption to make that tool really productive. Given that the vast majority of hospitals and physician practices are a long way from Stage 7 of the HIMSS Analytics model of EMR adoption, it’s not surprising that we are not seeing the kind of changes that we all want.

There is good news on the horizon, however. Industry-wide, healthcare IT companies are focusing a lot of attention on developing new analytic tools to help us find the cost-savings and health improvements of which we dream. The most sophisticated new tools are designed to marry the clinical data gathered by EMRs with financial and population data available from other sources to provide deeper understanding of the interaction between disease, individual patient characteristics and the health system.

These new analytic tools will depend on the creation of data integration and management systems that can pull data from clinical applications, EMRs, patient-reported data, healthcare financial systems and demographic and population data sources. The baseline for using these tools is a clinical data warehouse, or CDW, that can extract and house data from the clinical silos that are everywhere in healthcare.

The idea of the CDW is taking hold even as hospitals struggle to fully adopt electronic systems. In some ways, those hospitals that are laggards in the EMR adoption process may benefit from their procrastination by creating a CDW concurrently with an EMR system. They’ll be ready to quickly move from EMR adoption to analytics adoption if they build in a data integration function as they build their electronic systems.

With wide spread adoption of clinical data warehouses, enormous amounts of patient data can be de-identified and made available for researchers to study and analyze. When you add the promise of genomic data to the clinical data, and add in demographic, sociologic and financial data, the vehicle for creating new understanding becomes even more powerful.

So how do we find that intersection of population health and individual well-being that will help save our struggling health system? Analytics. Knowledge is the engine that will power our vehicle, driving us to that intersection where we can see all the forces that act on health. Analytic tools can refine crude data to a form that can fuel the knowledge of how people get sick and what processes we need to change to improve health.

Want an example of how population health studies have the power to give life and health to individuals? Think of the revolutionary finding that a lack of folic acid during the first weeks of pregnancy was the cause of many neural tube defects, like spina bifida. Food manufacturers started adding folic acid to a wide variety of common foods, and the rate of neural tube birth defects declined precipitously.

That understanding took years of hard work. With more data and sophisticated analytic tools, insights like this can come much faster and with less effort. The result will be an explosion of knowledge and the ability to reform our lives from conception to be healthier and less prone to the illnesses that plague our lives and cost us billions to treat.

What questions do you have?