3 ways health systems can better communicate data to physicians

To ensure physicians support quality and cost goals, health systems should consistently share cost data and clinical evidence with physicians, regardless of whether they're affiliated with or directly employed by a hospital, three physicians write in Harvard Business Review.

The piece was written by Scott Falk, MD, John Cherf, MD, and Julie Schulz, MD. The three authors are physician advisors to Lumere, an organization that offers healthcare solutions and aims to help health systems eliminate unneeded costs and clinical variation.

They recently conducted a survey of 276 physicians at Lumere to better understand their perceptions of clinical variation and the factors that affect how they choose drugs and devices. They found health systems can help physicians support the organization's quality and cost goals by frequently sharing cost data and clinical evidence with them.

Here are three recommendations health systems can use to better communicate hospital data to physicians:

1. Evaluate how data is shared with physicians. For most health systems, data sharing occurs irregularly and inconsistently, the authors said. In the Lumere survey, 91 percent of physicians said increasing physician access to cost data would positively affect care quality, but only 40 percent said their health systems are working to increase access to this data.

The authors give several explanations for why health system leaders have been slow to increase physician data access, such as a difficulty obtaining accurate, clinically meaningful data and a lack of knowledge among leaders about communicating this data.

2. Find the right amount and type of data to share. "Using evidence and data can foster respectful debate, provide honest education, and ultimately align teams," the authors wrote. Physicians should have access to published evidence to help choose cost-effective drug and device alternatives without harming outcomes, and health system leaders should give clinicians access to cost data as well as data on clinical matters such as length of stay and post-operative recovery profile, the authors said.

The authors recommend health systems have a centralized data/analytics department that includes quality-improvement team members and technology/informatics staff to analyze and disseminate data. 

3. Compare data based on evidence-based guidelines. When presenting data to physicians, health system leaders should ensure the data is organized in a way that emphasizes high-quality patient care. "Beginning the dialogue with physicians by asking them to reduce costs does not always inspire collaboration. To get physicians more involved, analyze cost drivers within the clinical context," the authors wrote.

Health systems should also keep data and communication simple by developing and following key performance indicators, which should reflect the voices of patients, care providers and payers. 

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