female-doctor-with-clipboardIn my last two blog posts, I discussed the challenges and benefits of meaningful use. In my first post, I talked about how many in healthcare view meaningful use as less than meaningful. In the second post, I looked at the flip side and how organizations can actually find meaning in it. In this blog post, I’d like to further examine this topic and the great benefits to healthcare that I think are possible if we are actually able to get meaningful use right. Imagine that!

Let’s go back to our meaningful use timeline for a moment:

  • Stage 1 started in 2011. In this phase, healthcare organizations had to prove that they had technology in place and that they could use the technology as they should.
  • Stage 2 started this year, and is proving to be much more difficult than Stage 1. In Stage 2, in short, providers must be able to get the data and validate that they are getting everything and can report it electronically.
  • Stage 3, which will start in 2017, is when healthcare organizations will have to prove that they are getting value from their electronic health records. This is where the rubber meets the road and we’ll really find out what meaningful use is made of.

So what will happen in Stage 3 if we get everything right and figure out how to meaningfully use this technology that we’ve implemented? I think there are three results that could dramatically help healthcare.

  1. Better population analytics will improve outcomes.

If providers are documenting data points consistently and there are fully implemented information exchanges, then analytics can help to create alerts, warnings, emails and texts for when certain things need to happen. For example, a patient could receive an alert for when he or she needs the next blood sugar test or cholesterol check.

Providers will also have access to a patient’s full chart so that they can have a better idea of the “big picture” of all that is going on over a given period of time. This way, providers will be able to see which treatment regimens are leading to lower readmission rates and better outcomes.

We are already seeing examples of this, way ahead of schedule. For example, our client Main Line Health analyzed different insulin therapy regimens to standardize on the therapy that produced the best outcomes for diabetes patients.

In addition, with a full exchange, providers will be better able to identify patients who jump from doctor to doctor to get what they want, whether it be more drugs (which can be abused), more tests, etc. This can not only help eliminate unnecessary spending, but can also improve patient health.

  1. Mindsets will shift from maintenance mode to preventive medicine

Medicine right now is in maintenance mode of trying to “fix the problem” – doctors treat patients who are sick after they show symptoms. To better treat patients, we need to move into preventive mode. We can accomplish this by more frequent wellness visits and improved analytics that will give doctors access to all tests and their results. With this information, astute providers can begin to identify patterns in the data that will allow them to identify risks that can be mitigated before they develop into illness.

For example, heart disease is the #1 chronic condition in the U.S. with 1 in 3 American adults living with some type of cardiovascular disease. CDC stats show that $1 out of every $6 spent on healthcare is spent on heart disease – and the costs are only expected to grow as the baby boomer generation ages. If we want to rein in healthcare costs, prevention of chronic diseases such as heart disease will be an important part of that.

Improved analytics can play a critical role here. For example, we have worked with Central Vermont Medical Center to enable staff members to track patients that manifest chronic conditions. The proactive nature of the alerts can help physicians and patients focus on preventive regimens while heading off expensive visits to the emergency department.

  1. Hospitals will be able to control costs

Healthcare needs to do a better job of getting healthcare costs under control on a wide scale since healthcare as it is today is not sustainable. Costs continue to rise as baby boomers are getting older but living longer – even with their chronic diseases.

We have helped numerous healthcare providers to get costs under control. For example:

But the real key to reduce costs at a macro level is for us, as a community (providers, payers, and most importantly, patients), to shift to the mindset of preventing illness. This means annual wellness checks and continual monitoring of chronic disease processes with appropriate and timely intervention. If we do this, we should expect to see a decrease in some of the cost-burdensome chronic diseases that take up the majority of the healthcare cost today.

The biggest challenge is getting patients to comply. And not just those who are in a chronic disease state, but also those who appear healthy and don’t get annual physicals or pay attention to the warning signs their bodies are giving until it is too late.

Hospitals and providers cannot take the full burden on this themselves. This needs to be a communal effort. But how do we get the community to take ownership of their responsibility? I know myself, even though I am educated about the right thing to do, I have put off the annual physical, mammogram, etc. because I had too much to do. I tell myself, “I feel fine – I’ll go soon.” But then all of a sudden it’s next year, and then the year after that, and then it’s been three years until I go and see a doctor. When I do go, it’s usually prompted by a specific symptom that has become concerning to me. We are all guilty of this thinking, whether or not we have insurance.

But if we can get meaningful use to work as it should, there would be triggers and alerts that would remind patients of their need for a checkup. Will this help? Are there other things we should be working on? I’d be interested to hear your thoughts in the comments section.

Read our blog series on meaningful use:

  1. Is Meaningful Use Less Than Meaningful?
  2. How to Find the Meaning in Meaningful Use
  3. 3 Ways Hospitals Will Benefit from Getting Meaningful Use Right

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