Three trends motivating 2017 healthcare strategy

The predictions for health care in 2017 have been cast, and overarching themes include greater adoption of big data and advanced technology as well as a continuation of payment and care model reform.

Perhaps the bigger story here, however, is how each of these is driving healthcare providers across numerous sectors to collaborate like never before.

Indeed, symbiosis is rapidly becoming the name of the patient-centered care game. One area where caregiver collaboration is crucial: during patient transitions between hospitals and outpatient therapy settings. How will this evolve over the next 12 months? And how will advanced technology, data collection and analysis, and payment reform continue to shape the relationship between hospitals and outpatient therapy practices?

Barring any unforeseeable political developments affecting health care, here’s what I expect will unfold in the year ahead:

1. Interoperability will be more than a buzzword.
We all know interoperability is imperative to success in value-driven care initiatives (including bundled payment programs), so our journey down this road has just begun. In 2017, providers and payers will aim to do away with data silos, standalone systems, and outdated infrastructure. Interoperability among software systems will become a mission-critical must-have. And because success in mandated programs depends on it, exchanging patient information and data across the healthcare spectrum will become more and more commonplace—especially among outpatient therapy providers looking to partner with hospital systems. After all, data-sharing is the only way for providers in separate facilities to effectively work together on quality improvement and care-plan coordination.

All collaborators need the ability to move data quickly and efficiently—and to look across multiple systems of record. Unfortunately, achieving interoperability is not as simple as linking two individual systems. Here’s why:
● First, it’s rare that two software systems speak the same language—even when they use “standard” interoperability languages. Not many systems comply with standards exactly, so there can be quite a bit of variability.
● Second, everyone needs to understand what types of clinical information can be shared. It takes a lot of time—even with additional technology layers and reliable application program interfaces (APIs)—to identify all the data points that will be exchanged.

That said, providers, payers, and vendors alike will continue to move toward this goal, with a few healthcare leaders and technology companies paving the way for everyone else. Eventually, it will lead to better care, improved efficiency, and cleaner, more meaningful data—which ultimately will decrease care costs and drive better patient outcomes.

2. There will be broader adoption of alternative payment models.
When providers caring for the same patient are held mutually accountable for patient performance, there’s a huge incentive for those providers to share data with one another, to be mutually informed about the care delivered, and to follow evidence-based treatment strategies. For care teams to coordinate their efforts and thus, provide the right care at the right time, they need reliable data. Now, we have already seen some success in this area—especially with bundled payment models like the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement (CJR) program. My prediction is that CJR and other alternative payment programs that have been successful in reducing cost and quality variations will become even more mainstream in 2017 and beyond.

The impending proliferation of alternative payment models and payment bundles will push large health systems—which are under increasing pressure to reduce readmissions and lower care costs—to invest more heavily in post-acute care providers like outpatient therapists. The recently passed Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act (MACRA)—which includes the Merit-Based Incentive Payment System (MIPS)—also incentivizes quality, cost reduction, and participation in new payment models. Those outside of outpatient therapy may not realize that, while MIPS starts in 2017 for the rest of healthcare community, PTs, OTs, and SLPs are not eligible to participate until at least 2019. Still, therapists can—and should—continue to collect data in the interim (even if that data isn’t part of any federally mandated program). By filling our data stores, we’ll set ourselves up to demonstrate our true chops as care collaborators. And that will help us get ahead of the curve regarding future payment rates.

While there’s a tendency to focus on Medicare and Medicaid, private insurance companies are going to be a key driver going forward as well. I foresee private payers being the ones to really run with the value-based payment model. These companies will help accelerate the pay-for-performance trend faster than Medicare can, thanks to their use of outcomes data.

3. Outcomes data will be crucial to delivering and rewarding value.
Collecting, analyzing, and using outcomes data will be even more important in 2017, because what we collect now will serve as the foundation for future payment reform. Plus, measurable data will truly enable us to provide better patient care, collaborate in more meaningful ways, and gain better insight into how our industry is functioning.

Big data gained momentum in 2016, but I think many of us would like to see it move faster. The challenge now is figuring out how to make sense of our data in a timely fashion. With so many new and evolving data sources and systems, organizations and practitioners are seeing a greater need for efficiency—and standardization—in the collection and analysis processes. But to truly leverage their data, the healthcare community must be vigilant about maintaining (1) the integrity of the data collected and (2) the agility to adjust to changing formats of incoming data. Mindsets around this will begin evolve, and more organizations will put resources into constantly monitoring and cleaning data as it arrives—before they tap it for insights.

Furthermore, predictive analytics will emerge as the differentiator for data management, as organizations and practices continue to improve the way they clean and maintain their data—and start standardizing their outcomes tools. It won’t be long until certain measurement tools become standard for certain diagnoses—across the entire spectrum of care. That’s because, in this new, integrated world of healthcare, all providers involved in a particular patient’s plan of care must be able to not only understand the scoring of those tools, but also use them to track progress throughout the patient’s entire care experience. That will lead to the creation of data that’s understood across the entire healthcare community—meaning that, ideally, it will be able to drive meaningful change at the population level.

All in all, we can count on this being a year of substantial evolution—one in which the healthcare community makes huge strides toward achieving truly patient-centered, value-driven health care. While change can be good, it hinges on all of us working together to make sure those changes have a positive impact across the board. I look forward to joining you on the journey.

Dr. Heidi Jannenga is president and co-founder of Phoenix-based software company WebPT, the country's leading rehab therapy platform for enhancing patient care and fueling business growth, with more than 65,500 members and 9,400 clinics as customers.

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