2012: Go Big (Data) or Go Home

The adoption of healthcare IT as a means to improve clinical workflow processes and ultimately to improve the delivery of patient care has accelerated. I believe 2012 will be a substantial year for HIT progress on the adoption front, as well as on the innovation front -- particularly as it relates to unlocking the power of patient data.

The pressures that the healthcare industry faces today are many: meaningful use, ICD-10, bringing ACOs to life, HIE and many others. In light of such pressures, there's a movement toward embracing HIT as a way to drive positive change. The reality is, the value of HIT is now proven, among providers for enhancing clinical workflow and among healthcare C-level staff (CMIO, CIO, CFO, CEO, etc.) who are focused on running a business of high-quality care delivery in the most efficient and effective way possible.

A significant focus I see for healthcare provider enterprises in 2012 is how to better leverage value from clinical data, to ensure that what is captured and documented from the care delivery process can be accessed, understood and used to drive clinical good, business good and patient good. The answer to this challenge lies in technology.

Clinical data starts with a patient's story, is expanded through a clinician's story (clinical knowledge, decision-making rationale) and then in many cases is stored at a single facility for use only with that individual patient. In 2012, I believe clinical data will become more tangible and, in turn, more powerful. Not only will healthcare enterprises begin to leverage technologies to enhance the process in which clinical data is captured, but they will begin to explore and implement technologies that can enhance the way clinical data is then analyzed and put to use for a larger good.

There is a term that is increasingly being used across healthcare, concurrent; what it means is being able to do things simultaneously. For example, being able to concurrently search clinical data to identify patients who may be at risk while they are still in a hospital, receiving care vs. running data analysis after patients are discharged to retroactively check for compliance with various safety protocols is critical. Additionally, by automating the identification of key clinical facts, such as patients' allergies or medications, from narrative, free-text reports and other data sources, quality and safety specialists can spend more time focusing on process improvements to drive better care and spend less time on manual chart review and the gathering data.

In 2011, many healthcare organizations laid the groundwork to receive incentive payments for Meaningful Use. Many EHR systems have been purchased and now healthcare organizations are figuring out how to implement them into the clinical workflow. This year, ICD-10 seems to be sharing center stage with Meaningful Use; in fact, it's been estimated that 25 percent of the capacity of IT in healthcare this year will be consumed by ICD-10. Beyond Meaningful Use and ICD-10, ACO planning holds the potential to dramatically change healthcare reimbursement forever and to reduce redundant and unnecessary services. The success of all of these major initiatives relies on good clinical data -captured and used. After all, an EHR is only as valuable as the data captured within it, and accurate reimbursement can only occur when what is billed aligns with what has been documented. ACOs will only become a reality when patient data is accurate and available across disparate locations and networks of care teams. In healthcare, the focal point must continue to be the patient and I think the empowerment movement we're seeing in patients looking to take an active role in the care process will help to further drive this home. In 2012, though, I believe the industry as a whole needs to take a step back from the EHR adoption frenzy and think about how we can come together to make patient data access, understanding and utilization a reality if we want to truly start thinking and acting smarter in 2012.