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How EHRs Help Make Successful Accountable Care Organizations

Through care coordination, population health management, and patient engagement, EHRs help enable successful accountable care organizations.

By Sara Heath

- EHRs are an invaluable tool for accountable care organizations, offering a system upon which providers can store and reference important patient information and then easily disseminate that information to other care team members.

accountable care organization EHR use

In fact, several of the key functions accountable are organizations are known for – care coordination, effective population health management, strong patient engagement – are dependent on EHRs. Through the EHR’s data storing abilities and shareability, accountable care organizations are able to effectively care for their patients’ overall wellness.

Below are the most important EHR tools that help accountable care organizations do their jobs:

Improve care coordination between team members

One of the key hallmarks of ACOs is care coordination, or the collaboration between all providers and specialists composing a patient’s care team. When patient health data is stored on an electronic record, care coordination becomes far easier.

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Although ACOs do have some EHR interoperability, as well as options for health information exchanges (HIEs), they still continue to struggle with the care coordination hurdle. Care coordination heavily relies on interoperability because patients need health information to seamlessly transfer from one provider to another. Often this doesn’t happen.

In a report from the eHealth Initiative and Premier Inc., researchers showed how interoperable EHRs plays a key role in making ACOs possible.

“As ACOs pull data from more sources, they also report lower abilities to leverage their health IT infrastructure to support care coordination, patient engagement, physician payment and contract adjudication, population health management and quality measurement,” the report explained.

That said, the healthcare industry is working diligently toward better EHR interoperability, which will in turn improve care coordination.

Earlier this month at HIMSS 2016, several key industry stakeholders, including EHR vendor giants Epic Systems and Cerner Corporation, made an interoperability pledge led by the Department of Health and Human Services.

HHS and the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT (ONC) has also made several calls to improve EHR interoperability, including in its most recent report to Congress released in February.

Enable population health management

EHRs are also useful due to the information that it stores. Not only can these systems store electronic forms of patient files, but they can also help providers aggregate public health data to help them perform better population health management.

“Obviously, it’s very important to be providing the right kind of data in a timely and accurate fashion to physicians and other providers,” said Mark Wagar, president of Heritage Medical Systems, in and interview with HealthITAnalytics.com. “They don’t just need to understand the patient who comes in the door because they feel so badly today they think they need help. They need data for whole populations of people across a hospital service area and across the population that a payer may contract for.”

For most ACOs, this means using EHR data to identify patients at risk for certain health complications or hospital readmissions, with the overall goal of preventing these.

“We really wanted to make sure that we could identify patients at highest risk for readmissions while they were still in the hospital, so that we could intervene appropriately,” said Tina Esposito, Vice President of the Center for Health Information Services at Advocate Health Care, told HealthITAnalytics.com. “Other key metrics include ED visits per thousand, patients that stay in-network, and length of stay.  These are all measures we absolutely focus on to support high quality at a lower cost.”

Improve patient engagement

Care coordination and population health management don’t stop when the patient walks out the office door; ACOs need to practice good patient engagement in order to be completely successful. One important way to do this is through patient health data access enabled through an EHR.

Foremost, patients can adopt their patient portals, or websites on which patients are able to view their health information as it is entered into the EHR. Although patient portals are not a part of the EHR, they can be offered through various EHR vendors and utilize the data stored on the EHR.

“Access to personal health information is crucial for patients to transition from a passive recipient to a driver in the new patient-centric healthcare delivery paradigm,” says the American Health Information Management Association in its recent patient engagement toolkit. “The ability to access both personal healthcare information and educational research on medical conditions is a key driver of self-activation.”

ACOs can also use the data stored in the EHR the same way they might for population health management. By identifying patients who are at risk for falls in their homes, ACOs can move past the traditional scope of care and work to keep those patients safe and engaged outside the doctor’s office.

Using that kind of data and making predictions about patients outside of the office is one of the most important parts of being an ACO, Wagar said in a separate interview with PatientEngagementHIT.com.

“It’s not enough to be really good when somebody falls in your door,” he asserted. “It’s in fact as important, if not more important, to be able to figure out how to work with them to improve their general health status so that they have fewer events where they fall in the door.”

Going forward, ACOs will need to continue to assess how their EHR technology is working in each of the above fields. By ensuring strong EHR interoperability, effective care coordination, and ample patient engagement, ACOs can ensure better health for their patients, thus ensuring success for themselves.

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