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Accelerate Population Health Initiatives by Leveraging the Cloud

Here’s an inarguable premise: healthy people cost a lot less to take care of than sick people.

That’s a big reason why population health management has moved to the forefront as a key strategy to get America’s massive healthcare costs under control. Veering from the traditional approach of treating individuals after they become ill, data is acquired from large groups or populations of people with similar health issues – and then examined to determine the best ways to keep them healthy.

That’s the theory, anyway. What does this broader focus look like in practice?

A million different pieces

The fundamental need for true population health is data. Lots and lots of data. In fact, one of the primary reasons behind the CMS-directed implementation of Electronic Health Records and their Meaningful Use is to aggregate and share data in large quantities.

But it hasn’t quite worked out that way yet. While healthcare data is becoming increasingly electronic – more physicians and hospitals than not now use some sort of EHR system – most of it remains contained within individual applications or healthcare organizations. It’s rather like a giant jigsaw puzzle with all of its pieces intact, but scattered across the country.

And that’s a challenge that must be solved, because fitted together, these pieces could reveal a clear picture of the answers to persistent health problems. Especially in the realm of treating chronic illnesses, which account for 75 percent of the more than $2 trillion spent on healthcare in America each year.

Breaking down the barriers to Big Health Data accessibility

To turn population health management from theory to everyday practice, the healthcare industry must find a way to make correlating data truly available to researchers and clinicians working together, but often from different organizations.

And not just data from EHRs. A wealth of information is waiting to be tapped from hospital-based devices, PACS images, remote patient monitoring devices, consumer wearables, and applications like Apple’s Healthkit.

Gaining this longitudinal view of populations will help the U.S. healthcare industry take a giant leap forward in improving the health of millions of people, and at a lesser cost than what we spend now. To get there, a neutral ground for corralling and sharing data is needed.

One house for all

When healthcare organizations consider turning to a data management and hosting provider, the context is typically more about keeping their data secure. To be sure, this is a critical business offering of such service providers (as long as they’re HIPAA-compliant, of course).

However, a top-tier provider will have advanced capabilities to acquire and synthesize the data for population health use. Specifically, the provider will have the ability to:

  • Pull data from disparate sources into a single cloud-based repository for collaborative use in population health initiatives.
  • Assure centralized, regularly performed security measures for continuously protected health information.
  • Scale as data volume increases, relieving need to making time-consuming infrastructure purchases.
  • Take on routine (but often overlooked) tasks so internal IT departments can switch focus to higher level activities, such as helping clinicians and researchers glean actionable insights from newly accessible Big Health Data.

When trust is gained, collaboration follows

Healthcare organizations are traditionally reluctant to share their data outside their own firewalls. And rightfully so. In addition to the competitive considerations, there are also the confidentiality risks. But with the right service provider, aggregating this data in the cloud can be a newly secure proposition.

In just one example, consider the “bring your own device” scenario prevalent in so many organizations today. An advanced cloud-based services provider will offer the option of running virtualized applications within its data center, which means the data is protected even if a device is lost or stolen. That’s because no protected health information was actually downloaded on the device.

It’s important to remember that healthcare organizations do remain responsible for keeping this data secure, wherever it may reside, even if in another organization’s system. Or a data center. And penalties are severe if HIPAA-protected information is stolen or compromised.

In short, it makes sense to house this data where HIPAA compliance is always top of mind.

Advantages of a healthcare-focused cloud provider

A HIPAA-compliant, cloud-based services provider offers a secure, organization-independent location to aggregate data. Here are some, but not all, characteristics of this essential data partner for realizing true population health management:

  • An exclusive focus on healthcare.
  • HITRUST-certified to assure data stays protected in accordance with all the most rigorous federal, state, and industry standards.
  • Verifiable and extensive employee background checks.
  • Additional patient data privacy capabilities, such as ability to de-identify patient-specific information.

By 2023, treatment focus will move to a more collaborative and shared model that emphasizes prevention and wellness, according to analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. As population health management is at the center of these changes, now is clearly the time to adopt this vanguard care delivery model.

A HIPAA-compliant cloud services provider offers just the right place.