HIMSS12: Data Will Be Driver of Health Care Change

by Kate Ackerman, iHealthBeat Managing Editor

LAS VEGAS -- The power of data was an overarching theme of the first day of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society's annual conference in Las Vegas.

"This is the golden age of information, and we're going to use it to help people live longer lives and better lives," Lowell Catlett, an economist and futurist, said.

Catlett -- a Regent's professor, dean and chief administrative officer at New Mexico State University -- was the closing keynote speaker at the 2012 CIO Forum, which was jointly presented by HIMSS and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives on Monday as part of HIMSS12.

Speaking to the some 550 CIOs and health care information management executives attending the daylong forum, Catlett said, "It's a new world, and you own it because it's data driven."

He predicted that increased transparency will lead to a new form of medical tourism where insurers use data to determine where patients should go to get certain services. 

New models could change the health care industry the same way iTunes changed the music industry, he said.

Paul Grundy -- president of the Patient-Centered Primary Care Collaborative and director of Healthcare Transformation at IBM -- explained how data already are starting to transform the health care industry.

Grundy -- also an adjunct professor at the University of Utah's Department of Family & Preventive Medicine -- told attendees that health care providers' "world changed" when insurers WellPoint and UnitedHealthcare recently announced new patient-centered medical home initiatives that fundamentally changed the way they pay for care.

According to Grundy, the medical home model will be built on IT and actionable data at the point of care. He said the vision is to shift away from episodes of care to managing populations.

Grundy cited three factors driving this transformation:

  • Unsustainable costs;
  • A younger patient population demanding access to data, as well as different types of health care delivery; and
  • The availability of actionable data that can be used for accountability.

Grundy called it a "no brainer" to re-engineer the health care system with available data that can be used to hold health care providers accountable. He said that initial data show that implementing patient-centered medical homes led to a drop in hospital emergency department use, shorter hospital stays, lower health care spending and lower mortality rates.

Grundy warned that employers will stop doing business with hospitals that do not use technology tools to make patient-centered medical care possible. He said, "You better listen because we're the buyer."

How Providers Can Tap Social Media

Wendy Sue Swanson -- a pediatrician at the Everett Clinic and Seattle Children's Hospital, and author of the blog "Seattle Mama Doc" -- discussed how social media and other technologies can help physicians provide data to their patients outside of traditional patient visits.

Swanson cited data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project finding that 80% of U.S. adult Internet users go online for health information. In fact, the third most common thing adults do online is search for health data, after email and using search engines, she said.

Meanwhile, patients' time with physicians is quite limited. Swanson noted that in Washington state, Medicaid covers just one well care visit every other year for children. And, those visits often last just 10 to 12 minutes.

Social media tools can help address the overabundance of health information and patients' limited time with providers, Swanson said.

Swanson said that if she exhausts her available time with a patient and his or her family and still has insight to pass on, she sends them a link to a blog post or a short video with pertinent information. Also, rather than wait until a patient is sick, she said she communicates with her patients throughout the year by sending emails to share certain blog posts with relevant patient groups.

The American Medical Association has issued guidelines to govern physicians' use of social media. However, Swanson said they are overly conservative. She noted that AMA recommends physicians separate personal and professional content, but she said that studies have shown it can be extremely powerful for physicians to share their own experiences and stories.

Swanson and Bryan Vartabedian -- an assistant professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine, attending physician at Texas Children's Hospital and author of the blog "33 Charts" -- came up with their own four principles that they believe should guide physicians' social media use:

  • Never discuss patient-specific issues;
  • Never be anonymous;
  • Remember everyone's watching; and
  • Be nice.

Swanson shared a quote from Lee Aase, director of the Center for Social Media at the Mayo Clinic: "We trust our physicians with scalpels and knives, how can we not trust them with Twitter and Facebook?"

With so much health care information out there, Swanson said that often experience is confused as expertise. She cited all of the media reports about actress Jenny McCarthy's opinions about vaccines and autism in light of her experience with her son, noting, "Science is losing its voice."

Swanson said she believes it's her ethical obligation to be online and share science-based data with her patients through blog posts, Twitter and online videos.

However, doing so is a time-consuming process, she conceded. Swanson works seven days per week, including early morning and late evenings, and has not had a day off since she started using social media professionally. Finding a sustainable social media model for physicians remains a challenge, she said.

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