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While some disagree on the right approach to transform our healthcare system, most will agree that patients must remain at the core. In order to deliver on the promise of more affordable, convenient care, healthcare decision makers should look at every decision with the patient at the center. How patients experience health reform over the next few years will be the measuring stick of health reform success.
To date, progress has been made in a few areas but we still stand removed from a truly patient-centric healthcare system. To meet this objective, more should be done with patient data – from how it moves within the healthcare system, to how it is analyzed and presented.
[Also by Kristine Martin Anderson: 9 ways health IT helps patients.]
First, greater attention is needed on healthcare liquidity: the ability of patient data to move throughout the healthcare system securely. Liquid health information, distributed digitally through electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchange mechanisms has potential to transform nearly every aspect of healthcare delivery. Digitized health information, and its movement, has enormous potential – it can paint a vivid, real-time picture of the patient’s experience, creating knowledge and collaboration among the patient and his or her healthcare providers. Liquid healthcare information can facilitate improvements in healthcare quality, efficiency, convenience, and outcomes while encouraging innovation and providing a foundation for a new standard of patient-centered, team-oriented care.
Unfortunately, healthcare liquidity is not rampant in our system. Patients – not exchanges or EHRs – remain the most reliable exchange mechanism within our healthcare system. Most patients can re-tell stories from their visits to their physician’s office where they've wasted time filling out form after form, trying to remember prior visits, prescriptions or procedures. Often, this information already lives within the healthcare system, stored in health records, whether paper or electronic. Unfortunately, the lack of liquidity has locked patient data, limiting patient-centricity. When we are successful in allowing this information to securely follow patients, many could feel assured that they and their physicians will have the right information to make the best decisions for their health.
Second, measures of quality need to make sense to the patient. Currently, the quality measurement system is heavily biased toward the needs of our healthcare delivery system – and does not speak directly to patients. This focus on measuring physicians and hospitals is important, particularly if you think about the types of measures that are created (measures that assess technical quality) and the intended uses of measurement, from accreditation and quality improvement to payment. However, the information that healthcare providers and payers need to assess quality and efficiency are not necessarily the same as information that patients need to make decisions about their care. Patients do not consume health information in the same way that a professional healthcare worker would consume health information. At the point of decision, they need personalized data that will help them play an active role in choosing the right treatment option, and an understanding of how they can achieve optimal health outcomes.
[Related: A practical guide to beginning your EMR journey.]
So, what are the possibilities for patient-centered measurement? For example, providers could translate a patient readmission rate for a hospital into a personalized calculator that physicians could review with patients and their family before admission, during hospital stay, and at discharge. This personalized information could show each patient what actions they could take to help avoid an unplanned readmission. In addition, mobile applications could be created to help patients navigate care transitions and help to ensure that they have received the recommended treatment.
The next few years will be critical to the success of our healthcare system – from continued EHR adoption, to HIE implementation and creation of Accountable Care Organizations. Regardless of the program or reform, the healthcare system stands the best chance for success when the patient is truly put first.
Kristine Martin Anderson is a senior vice president in Booz Allen Hamiton's healthcare market.