Healthcare Organizations Go Big For Analytics

Half of providers and payers see advanced analytics as their top investment priority, says IDC survey.

Ken Terry, Contributor

March 18, 2013

4 Min Read

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam

10 Mobile Health Apps From Uncle Sam(click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Healthcare care providers and health plan organizations involved in accountable care consider analytics applications their top investment priority, according to a new report by IDC Health Insights.

In IDC's survey of 40 hospitals and 30 insurers, 50% of respondents said their highest investment priority was advanced analytics. Forty-six percent were placing their chips on data warehousing, which is closely associated with the use of analytics.

The latter figure is higher than that in a 2011 survey by HIMSS Analytics, which found that only 30% of healthcare providers had data warehouses. But the IDC number includes health insurers, most of whom have data warehouses, noted Cynthia Burghard, IDC's research director of accountable care IT strategies, in an interview with Information Week Healthcare.

Moreover, only organizations involved in building accountable care organizations or patient-centered medical homes were included in the IDC survey. The hospitals among those respondents would be more likely than the average provider to have a data warehouse, she said.

[ How are healthcare organizations encouraging patients to take the reins? See our slideshow 7 Portals Powering Patient Engagement. ]

The explosion of interest in analytics, Burghard observed, can be attributed to the emergence of new care delivery models that focus on population health management. "You can't do that if you don't know who your patients are and what their characteristics are," she said.

The types of data that the respondents said were needed to deliver appropriate preventive and chronic care to patients included claims (57%), clinical structured data (73%), and care management data (70%).

Healthcare providers are "just starting to learn how to use clinical data coming out of EHRs" for analytic purposes, Burghard pointed out. But they can already get some valuable information on their patients from claims data. "When they're working with the payers, the payers are providing them with claims data, at least for their population," she said.

In fact, "claims is the dominant source of data" for healthcare analytics today, she said, although it's usually mixed with clinical and other data. The respondents' top goals for analytics were identifying at-risk patients (66%), tracking clinical outcomes (64%), performance measurement and management (64%), and clinical decision making at the point of care (57%).

Although this didn't come across in the IDC report, Burghard said that providers engaged in accountable care are also very interested in business intelligence applications that can help them "quantify risk and identify the financial impact of risk, because all of this accountable care stuff is about moving risk to providers. They kind of enter those contracts with payers on a wing and a prayer, without understanding whether they can afford to do appendectomies for $2,000."

Between 30% and 40% of the respondents also expressed interest in mining data from mobile devices, social networks and unstructured clinical data. Health plan providers focused more on these sources than doctors did.

Tens of thousands of health applications now exist for mobile devices, ranging from diet and exercise apps to apps that allow consumers to use their smartphones with glucometers and blood pressure devices. Yet physicians' use of data generated by those devices has been fairly low so far. So why did such a big percentage of IDC respondents cite it?

"Providers realize there's some good stuff there," Burghard replied. "As an industry, we haven't exactly figured out what that good stuff is and how useful it's going to be. But there's a growing recognition that there's an opportunity there."

Underlining her point, a recent survey by EHR vendor eClinicalWorks found that 93% of physicians believe that mobile health apps can improve a patient's health outcome, and 89% are likely to recommend a mobile health app to a patient.

Most significant, 93% said there was value in connecting mobile apps to their EHRs. Six of 10 doctors said the top benefit of this technology was the ability to provide patients with automatic appointment alerts and care reminders.

As large healthcare providers test the limits, many smaller groups question the value. Also in the new, all-digital Big Data Analytics issue of InformationWeek Healthcare: Ask these six questions about natural language processing before you buy. (Free with registration.)

About the Author(s)

Ken Terry


Ken Terry is a freelance healthcare writer, specializing in health IT. A former technology editor of Medical Economics Magazine, he is also the author of the book Rx For Healthcare Reform.

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