Big data plus mapping equals opportunities to improve care, cut costs

Technology that not only aggregates a person's health data, but adds in publicly available information about where patients live, can help healthcare organizations achieve the Triple Aim of improving the care experience, improving care and cutting costs, according to an article at Health Affairs.

The Health Affairs article describes the geographic health information system used at the Duke University Health System, which combines not only 16 years' worth of health data on patients--it's the predominant provider in its county--but birth and death records, U.S. census demographic data, county tax-parcel data, crime and housing statistics, environmental data and more.

It allows users to map data about patients' living conditions, where they receive their care and the resources available to them locally, and describes three scenarios in which the maps this system provides have been used to improve care:

  • A project focused on reducing childhood lead exposure enabled the Durham County (N.C.) Health Department and community advocacy groups to pinpoint areas on which to focus their efforts. The system allowed them to combine county tax assessor data on housing conditions, blood lead screening data from clinic visits and census demographic data to set strategies of reaching out to mothers with homes in high-risk areas, hold screening clinics in those neighborhoods and go door-to-door with information about lead exposure. The county housing department used the model to prioritize how it would spend housing rehabilitation funds. It enabled parents to seek screening for their children and to press for better-quality housing.
  • In a project to reduce the use of emergency departments for primary care, researchers were able to map characteristics such as employment status, whether the person had insurance and other demographics to boost efforts to provide more appropriate, less-expensive alternatives close by.
  • In a project to improve diabetes care, researchers were able to map patients whose A1c was out of goal range. With that information, new individual and community-based diabetes intervention programs are being developed based on patients' neighborhood contexts. It pinpointed pockets of high-risk patients among whom modest improvements could mean big savings.

The data aggregation and mapping not only highlight opportunities to take action, but the ability to monitor progress on the individual, neighborhood and community level and to evaluate the impact of interventions, the researchers point out.

All the aggregation and mapping, however, requires enhanced skill in protecting patient privacy, the researchers said, especially when such maps are displayed in public.

A report by consulting firm McKinsey & Co. recently projected that data analytics could help U.S. citizens save as much as $450 billion in healthcare costs.

Efforts such as an algorithm that identifies diabetic patients in real time, and efforts to reach out to them are at the heart of population health management, Bonnie S. Cassidy, senior director of HIM innovation at Nuance Communications, wrote in an article about the emerging role of population health information management professionals. Such efforts could be effective in reaching patients who might not visit their doctors regularly.

To learn more:
- find the article

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