Appointment Data Opens Door to Population Health Management of Rising Risk Patients

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
This post was written by Patricia Donovan

The rising risk population represents a healthcare organization’s “low-hanging fruit,” says Dr. Adrian Zai, clinical director of population informatics at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Sometimes the most powerful population health management intervention is simply to convince a patient to make an appointment.

This is the first step Dr. Adrian Zai, clinical director of population informatics at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), would recommend to any organization hoping to better manage its rising risk population, a group the physician describes as “low-hanging fruit.”

“The appointment does not require significant investment in any health IT or other resources,” said Dr. Zai during Targeting High-Risk and Rising-Risk Patients: A Multi-Pronged Strategy, an August 2016 webinar now available for replay. “All you need is appointment data. The key is to identify existing data you already have in your organization and start there, so that you impact outcomes.”

Dr. Zai, whose hospital has been ranked number one in the nation by U.S. News & World Report, likened the notion of an organization acquiring a sophisticated health data analytics system prior to identifying clinical outcomes to “building a house without an architect.”

However, having done its due data diligence, MGH’s population health management approach embraces technology. The MGH approach, which targets rising- and high-risk patients, has moved far beyond appointment-setting, constructing a safety net program with the goal of improving clinical outcomes for 300,000 patients in its entire primary care network— a network spanning MGH and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

To this end, MGH developed a new set of clinically meaningful measures, but not before soliciting physician feedback on its existing set. In response, doctors identified more than 200 challenges to the old measures that MGH addressed in its new decision support system.

With new measures in place, MGH then created central population health coordinator teams to support primary care physicians in population health management, freeing clinicians to care for patients.

The selection of technology to support MGH’s primary care safety net presented its own challenges. “Frequently, the tools you end up with—for data aggregation, analytics, care coordination, and patient outreach—don’t actually talk to each other. You need a system to pull all of these functionalities together. That’s the strategy we took,” said Dr. Zai.

The new MGH population health management system enables clinicians to identify and share gaps in care with MGH care coordinators and population health managers, so they can intervene and try and close those gaps, he continued.

The system also tracks outcomes. After using the system for only six months, MGH reported improvement in every one of its newly developed performance framework measures. Not only is the ability to review outcomes appealing to payors, but 85 percent of MGH physicians surveyed also expressed satisfaction with the system—as well as its concurrent financial incentives.

In closing, Dr. Zai reiterated the need for collaboration: between staffers doing the work and the informatics tying those efforts neatly together. “One cannot work without the other. That technology is just a tool. Just as you cannot give a hammer to someone and expect them to build a house, you need the talents working together with technology to make that happen.”

Click here to listen to an interview with Dr. Zai on reducing the natural inertia of low-risk patients to move into the high-risk stratum.

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