Health IT systems ill-equipped for population health data

Integrating behavioral and social information with existing health data could improve population health.

Current health IT systems aren’t equipped to adequately manage population health, prompting researchers to call on health leaders to close those gaps by expanding data collection efforts.

To do this, healthcare leaders must embrace new data sources that integrate behavioral and social factors with existing clinical data, according to a commentary published in The American Journal of Managed Care. MACRA has placed more pressure on providers to use health information technology systems to address population health needs through laws, but existing data collection and analytics systems are ill-equipped to manage that task because they focus solely on health outcomes data rather than a broad range of influential factors such as housing, nutritional habits, socioeconomic status and geographic location.

Although health information exchanges (HIEs) have established a framework for sharing health data, the number of public exchanges has declined in recent years, prompting more hospitals to invest in privately run HIEs.

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Data collection and sharing efforts often focus on important health outcomes such as mortality, but rarely incorporate information that would close population health gaps. Recently, however, South Carolina and Arkansas have taken steps to incorporate behavioral health data into HIEs.

RELATED: HIEs taking steps to boost exchange of behavioral health info

The researchers note that although the capabilities exist to collect and analyze this additional information, it’s up to health leaders to forge those partnerships, particularly with increased pressure from the federal government to address population health needs.

“As organizations become accountable for population health, their leaders will need to initiate collaborations and agreements with nontraditional partners to obtain, share, and use social indicators and service information in order to optimally leverage health IT resources in pursuit of enhanced healthcare and population health,” the researchers wrote.

RELATED: How data is the cornerstone of population health management [Special Report]

Health experts have said population health gains require robust analytics and more mobile health integration, while policy experts have advocated for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to gather more data on social risk factors. Studies also show that strong community health networks are critical to making long-term improvements to population health.   

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