The Importance of Using Data in Your Practice

Changing payment models are forcing physicians to meet quality metrics and maintain targeted levels of performance in order to be reimbursed. As a result, understanding and utilizing practice data is becoming extremely important.

Many physicians are already using electronic health record (EHR) data in innovative ways to manage patient health and maximize quality and efficiency (see related story, page 18). For those practices not as far along in the process, the good news is that EHRs provide a wealth of information that practices can use to get a solid, fact-based snapshot of how they are performing and which areas can be improved.

This information is key for practices participating in accountable-care organizations, contracting with health plans offering performance-based pay, or participating in federal programs that provide bonuses for meaningful use of technology. The bad news is that many practices lack the resources to determine what data should be used, how to interpret it, and, more importantly, how to use it in the practice.

Regardless of where you may be in the process, here are some points for consideration for using data in your practice:

Data collection and reporting. Unlike paper records, an EHR system can aggregate and report data in ways that are easily searchable and organized. The type of data that practices need to capture is often dictated by the reimbursement programs that the practice participates in or its specific health-plan contract requirements. Either way, practices should become familiar and comfortable with creating and running reports based on their practice data. In some cases, EHRs are set up to generate predefined reports that can be accessed within the EHR.
Using data to provide better care and expand your practice. Data analytics can be used to identify at-risk patients who fall outside the normal benchmarks and may require some special attention and/or follow-up clinically. By having such data in hand, physicians are able to target these specific patients and develop programs to better manage their care. Data not only improves patient outcomes, but also opens the door to opportunities for practice expansion in different areas, including disease- or condition-centered program development.
Data will soon become bigger and better. The emergence of health-information exchanges will only expand the scope of analytics and provide physicians with access to regional and national data, providing a more holistic view of patient information. –
Talia Goldsmith writes about medical practices for Vital Signs, a publication of the Mass. Medical Society, in which this article first appeared.