Below is an article originally published on EHR Intelligence featuring Michael Meucci, Director of Transformation and Improvement at Arcadia Healthcare Solutions. 

After selecting a new EHR vendor, implementing properly certified products, and getting staff members up to speed on the brand new technology, providers will be eager to explore everything that their replacement EHR has to offer.  As population health management and accountable care become mainstream concepts proven to shrink costs and improve care quality, more and more EHR products have analytics and reporting capabilities that will help providers expand their reach to provide more robust care to chronically ill patients and those at higher risk of developing expensive and dangerous diseases.  Leveraging the full range of capabilities your technology has to offer starts with a few simple steps.

Understanding your patient population

Every provider has a unique mix of patients with different challenges that need to be addressed.  Socioeconomic status, language barriers, the prevalence of certain chronic conditions like diabetes or asthma, and the age of a provider’s core consumer base can all affect how that organization allocates resources and manages health on a community-wide level.

“Using the EHR to dig into that is really helpful because you can say, ‘Okay, great, 75% of my population is primarily Spanish speaking.  You know, I really need to make sure that I have Spanish-translated materials in the office,’” explains Michael Meucci, Director of Transformation and Improvement at Arcadia Healthcare Solutions. “Or maybe you can consider investing in hiring a medical assistant or a nurse whose first language is Spanish. Because we know from cultural studies that people are more comfortable talking about their health in their first language.  How do you appeal to them, make them comfortable in the care setting?”

“Those are some of the questions that we look at as we start to work with organizations to define what their management strategy is,” Meucci added. “Who are your patients, and what do we know about them, and what can we discern about what you need in terms of transforming your practice around that patient population?” EHR data can equip providers with the information they need to identify high risk patients or those who have fallen off the radar and need to resume chronic disease management or routine primary care.

What can your EHR do for you?

While vendors are increasingly offering population health management as part of the core features of their EHRs, up to a third of systems still lack the reporting capabilities necessary to get to know your patients.   “We have a whole new group of players trying to figure out, first of all, what the heck is population management, and secondly, how they can do it,” says Dr. Peter Edelstein, Vice President and Chief Medical Officer of Healthcare at MEDai.  “In the past, most of the population health management tools on the market were made for data analysts.”  But as the major vendors retool their products to meet increased Meaningful Use requirements, many of which focus on population health, the basic set of tools included in the EHRs available today are significantly more sophisticated – and more importantly, they’re designed with physicians, nurses, and other clinicians in mind.

“Not everyone has the same goals right now in their population health management programs,” Edelstein says.  “They just don’t.  So these tools are very powerful very personal for them. Instead of just saying, ‘here’s a large group of patients,’ we can say, ‘here is the right size in terms of number that you can deal with based on the predictions that matter to you.’”

Embracing true accountable care

EHR technology is only the first piece of the accountable care puzzle.  From patients adding their blood pressure readings to their online healthcare journals to home monitoring devices that automatically stream data into the electronic record, to health information exchange (HIE) data transmitted from the hospital across town, providers have a plethora of input sources that provide a rich and robust portrait of a patient’s health.  All this data can be overwhelming, but it’s also critical to understand and integrate, especially as wearable sensors increase in popularity and patients frequently expect more out of their providers.

Whether providers are seeking to join an accountable care organization (ACO), applying for patient-centered medical home (PCMH) status, or just trying to ensure that higher risk patients don’t fall through the gaps, the journey to better population health management starts with a thorough understanding of the technology that forms the solid foundation.

“You need to make sure you are maximizing the use of your EHR,” Meucci says.  “Sometimes that means that before you embark down the road to population health management, you need to square away your EHR optimization program.  Make sure that people are using it properly, and that you’re back up to acceptable levels of productivity. If you can get back your productivity and efficiency after EHR implementation, get it optimized, and make sure you’re using it meaningfully, then that negative impact of productivity is minimized, and it also keeps the spirits of everyone participating in the program higher so you can be more successful.”

April 29, 2014