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Survey: Clinical analytics jumps in importance

Clinical analytics is making inroads in revenue cycle management, but its use is still driven mainly by population health and government compliance.

Providers are using and buying health data analytics systems chiefly to improve clinical care quality and compliance, but analytics also has become central to business functions, according to a recent survey conducted by TechTarget and the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives (CHIME).

The survey of 245 health IT professionals at provider organizations showed a spike in interest in clinical analytics.

Respondents at 80% of healthcare systems reported that clinical analytics was more important this year than last, while 69% of respondents at ambulatory providers said they saw it as more important this year.

Quality of care leans on health data analytics

Meanwhile, capturing data for federally mandated patient care quality reporting was by far the single most common use for analytics cited by surveyed employees of healthcare systems, standalone hospitals and ambulatory providers.

You're a business and your financial operations and clinical metrics are your bread and butter.
Rose Higginsexecutive vice president and general manager, SCIO Health Analytics

Some 87% of those surveyed from healthcare systems, 73% at hospitals and 57% at ambulatory providers, said they used analytics for care reporting.

However, employing data analytics to collect revenues was the second most popular use among all providers, with 73% of respondents from healthcare systems using analytics for revenue cycle management, and 66% of hospitals and 48% of ambulatory providers using it for that purpose.

Expert sees a business-focused shift

Handling reimbursement under value-based care, verifying coding accuracy and monitoring supply chain management also were cited as key functions for clinical analytics programs in providers' IT, health management and hospital administration departments.

One expert who reviewed the survey, Rose Higgins -- executive vice president and general manager of SCIO Health Analytics, a West Hartford, Conn. vendor and consulting firm -- said the strong business focus in the survey results confirms that providers of all sizes are reacting to the shift to value-based care by turning to analytics.

"They're using it to inform their strategy under the new paradigm," Higgins told SearchHealthIT.

Care quality reporting paramount

At the same time, Higgins said, improving care quality as the core application for health data analytics makes sense because in an increasingly competitive marketplace, care metrics serve as important differentiators when providers market their services.

"Clinical quality is a place where organizations have said 'We really need to understand so we can be looked at favorably compared others,'" Higgins said. "Hospitals and health systems focus on clinical performance.

"At the end of the day, you're a business and your financial operations and clinical metrics are your bread and butter," she added. "The go-forward strategy is a combination of the two."

The other key areas for engaging with analytics are health information exchange, population health management and clinical research, the survey found.

Looking deeper into the survey, respondents from all provider sectors said they planned to use a variety of advanced analytics tools over the next two years.

Details behind clinical analytics tools

For healthcare systems, these tools were for:

  • Clinical data analytics, 81%
  • Population health management, 54%
  • Administrative business intelligence, 54%
  • Data mining, 50%
  • Predictive analysis, 48%

Big provider systems and integrated delivery networks, as well as individual hospitals, physician practices and accountable care organizations, also are planning to use analytics for a broad range of projects in addition to population health and more narrow business functions.

For bigger providers, these projects include: meaningful use, monitoring resource utilization among various hospitals, research, improving patient experience, mobile health and ICD-10 conversion.

Smaller hospitals and physician practices are using analytics tools for similar purposes, though in smaller numbers, the survey indicated.

And despite recent publicity and optimism around precision medicine and genomics, the survey showed that relatively few providers have used analytics in those areas.

EHR or third-party for analytics

Meanwhile, one notable finding was that 48% of health systems are looking outside their EHRs for analytics services, as are 40% of hospitals and 32% of physician practice -- likely opening not only opportunities for analytics vendors beyond the big EHR companies, but also integration challenges.

The survey also indicated that 29% of practices, 18% of hospitals and 12% of health systems don't use any analytics systems.

Cloud rising

On the business analytics side, the survey showed that cloud applications are making some headway in big healthcare systems that have traditionally shied away from cloud technology, but also that nearly half of all providers are not using the cloud for business intelligence.

All three provider classes were using cloud analytics to some extent for these functions:

  • Data storage
  • Business intelligence
  • Clinical data analytics
  • Data security
  • Data visualization

Moving on from meaningful use

Higgins said meaningful use and other government reporting requirements are still driving adoption of analytics, but more modern applications will gain influence. One important new use for both payers and providers that are taking on risk is analyzing the likelihood of patients not paying their increasing out-of-pocket fees, she said.

"Meaningful use has forced a lot of organizations to document their ability to meet goals, but going forward there's going to be more emphasis on things like population health, and revenue cycle management is an important player and probably always will be," she said.

And analytics are being used to not only manage value-based care, but also to navigate the transition to value-based reimbursement, which is only now taking off.

"It's about how to optimize fee-for-service while shifting away from fee-for-service to value," Higgins said.

 Let us know what you think about the story; email Shaun Sutner, news and features writeror contact @SSutner on Twitter.

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