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4/17/2014
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Analytics Enhance Community Health Reporting

Partnership between Premier and University of North Carolina Charlotte improves nonprofit hospitals community health needs assessment process.

Crowdfunding The Next Healthcare Hit
Crowdfunding The Next Healthcare Hit
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To help non-profit healthcare providers enhance their population health initiatives, healthcare alliance Premier and the University of North Carolina Charlotte recently created a cloud-based data-gathering and analytics solution initially targeted at community health needs assessments (CHNAs). Under the Affordable Care Act, not-for-profit hospitals must conduct and publicly report CHNAs every three years to identify one or more community needs and describe how they're addressing the issues. Successful completion is necessary to justify their tax-exempt status and participate in many federal programs. The process also should allow hospitals to allocate resources more accurately for their population health programs, leading to healthier communities and lower health costs.

Traditionally, hospitals use fixed weighting for a limited number of county-level static indicators, including causes of death and reasons for hospitalization, according to Premier, which defines its mission as "improving the health of communities." Without complete data, providers may not accurately identify their communities' health needs, the organization said.

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"Community health is rapidly being recognized as a key factor affecting the outcomes experienced by high-risk populations," said Alejandro Reti, MD, senior director of population health at Premier, in an interview. "Health systems trying to manage population health realize community and social factors are among the most important to modify, and they are actively seeking tools to help them identify and prioritize community-based interventions."

Mercy Health West Hospital, Cincinnati, part of Catholic Health Partners.
(Image: Catholic Health Partners)
Mercy Health West Hospital, Cincinnati, part of Catholic Health Partners.
(Image: Catholic Health Partners)

Hospitals have a wealth of data available to them through electronic health records (EHRs) and other claims and clinical repositories, creating an opportunity to use this mandated report to become better informed about their populations' requirements and where to allocate resources.

Recognizing the opportunity, within the integration of data mining for decision support, UNC Charlotte's College of Health and Human Services professor James Studnicki developed the data warehousing, data mining, and decision support software. The analytics platform integrates information such as clinical and event-level data from EHRs with community data, based on race, age, obesity incidence, immunization rates, and transportation access. Geographic tagging allows providers to narrow reports by ZIP code, county, or region. Clients can run reports prioritized according to their needs and resources.

"The hospital is free to determine whether and how much of the technology they want to use," Studnicki said. "For example, the hospital can request a highly specialized customized report or series of reports generated specifically based on their specifications. Or the hospital may gain access to all the analytical capabilities to analyze any population, issue, condition, surgical procedure, etc., that they may determine now or in the future."

Although many organizations approached his team, Studnicki chose Premier due to its focus on transforming healthcare, as well as its "vast network of providers and community collaboratives which can serve as a test environment." He was also impressed by Premier's IT and analytic capabilities.

Catholic Health Partners, which had previously conducted its CHNA research internally, recently signed on for the Premier/UNC Charlotte service, J.D. Whitlock, director of clinical and business intelligence at Catholic Health, in an interview.

"PremierConnect Enterprise [Premier's hosted data warehouse offering] is our platform for many business intelligence projects; Community Health Analytics is just one of them. We appreciate focusing our efforts on analytics and not managing software and servers," said Whitlock. "We leverage Dr. Studnicki's expertise at UNCC to target the publically available data of the most value, and then will leverage the analytics developed at UNCC to help us more efficiently evaluate the health status and needs of the communities we serve. Our own staff will add in data on our own patients from our EHR and other sources. The real power of this project will be to combine public health data and our own patients' data in one mapping view. This goes beyond the CHNA use case to population health management."

Premier will charge a subscription price (not yet determined) for its CHNA service, according to Reti. By the end of the year, Premier hopes to offer it to all 2,900 hospital members of its alliance.

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Alison Diana has written about technology and business for more than 20 years. She was editor, contributors, at Internet Evolution; editor-in-chief of 21st Century IT; and managing editor, sections, at CRN. She has also written for eWeek, Baseline Magazine, Redmond Channel ... View Full Bio

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