Data management critical to meet member expectations

July 1, 2008

According to results of Deloitte Consulting's 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers, nearly 80% of consumers want their physicians to provide online access to medical records and test results. Thus, the cry has gone out for physicians, providers and purchasers to respond quickly. In the travel and banking industries, data moves freely between applications-and that's the current challenge for the healthcare industry.

ACCORDING TO THE RESULTS of Deloitte Consulting's 2008 Survey of Health Care Consumers, nearly 80% of consumers want their physicians to provide online access to medical records and test results. And one-fourth of them are willing to pay extra for it.

"I think consumers have become a lot more comfortable with the Internet," says John Bigalke, vice chairman and industry leader for Deloitte's Health Sciences and Government practice. "Consumers are much more engaged, and that is putting a lot of pressure on the system."

Thus, the cry has gone out for physicians, providers and purchasers to respond quickly. In the travel and banking industries, data moves freely between applications-and that's the current challenge for the healthcare industry.

"The healthcare industry has massive amounts of data-exponentially increasing amounts of data-flowing into various organizations, and these organizations don't have the data-management capabilities to store it properly, move it around and make it really useful," says Conn.

Collecting, then sharing, patient data is critical if healthcare providers are going to deliver on consumer expectations. To that end, technology vendors have developed information platforms upon which hospitals and healthcare providers can store and share patient information.

Microsoft's HealthVault, which plugs into a single-access-point platform utility, is a free Web-based personal health record designed to collect, store and share health information with family members and participating healthcare providers. It provides users with a choice of third-party applications and devices to help them manage things such as fitness, diet and health.

"Virtually all the private sector technology companies see the value and the business that is available in the healthcare industry, and they want a part of it," says Deloitte's Bigalke. "And I think some of those technologies can be real effective tools for facing the challenges."

PUTTING TOOLS TO WORK

One year ago, Vanderbilt Primary Care, which provides primary care services to approximately 30% of Vanderbilt University's employees and their families, integrated a third-party system. The system's super computer scans data from claims, lab tests and pharmacy orders and compares it with the latest medical findings.

Where appropriate, the system will issue an alert to promote more rapid adoption of new evidence-based guidelines for care. A team of Vanderbilt nurses compares the alerts with member records to determine appropriateness, such as a patient allergy to a recommended medication. If no red flags are raised, the care consideration is forwarded to the treating physician, who can then make the final determination. Vanderbilt physicians, in effect, are able to apply the latest medical findings in a more timely manner.

"We know that there is a lot of care that really good research has shown should be delivered, but it's not," says Jim Jirjis, MD, MBA, medical director of Vanderbilt Primary Care. "And the challenge with medicine today is how to close that gap."

Dr. Jirjis says it's unrealistic to expect doctors to memorize every study published in every medical journal. It's especially unrealistic to expect doctors to instantly apply the data at the point of care.

"How many doctor's offices do you know of that will randomly call you because they've been monitoring things?" Dr. Jirjis asks. "It strengthens the doctor-patient relationship."

It's not unusual to see partnerships forged in an effort to close the gap and provide consumers with the healthcare services and information they desire. For example, in March, MedTouch, a provider of Web platforms, entered into a partnership with A.D.A.M. Inc., a provider of consumer health information.

Paul Griffiths, CEO of MedTouch, explains that if a hospital plans to do a Web-based campaign to promote its cancer center, for example, it needs not only a home page for the cancer center containing hospital-generated information, but a wider variety of health-related information that consumers can link to.