Just a Quarter of Providers Use EHRs for Population Health Management

Despite the hype, a new survey suggests most providers are still getting their feet in the digital doorway.

Hospital executives have embraced electronic health records (EHRs), but most say the technology hasn’t yet succeeded in spurring a new era of data-driven population health management, according to a new report.

PwC’s Health Research Institute commissioned a survey of 300 healthcare executives working at various facilities, including academic medical centers, for-profit and nonprofit hospitals, and government-run clinics. Although 96% of non-federal government hospitals use EHRs and 87% of office-based physicians use them, only a quarter (23%) of executives strongly agree that EHRs have helped position their organizations to do population health management and value-based care.

Benjamin Isgur, MPAff, who leads PwC’s Health Research Institute, says the findings appear to be the result of the learning curve associated with the new technology.

“Largely, the focus has been on optimizing the EHR from a usability and workflow perspective—making it easier for clinicians to navigate and use,” he tells Healthcare Analytics News™. “Our research has found that the availability of technology itself is not really the issue.”

The report notes that many healthcare organizations installed EHR systems to get a shot at government “meaningful use” incentives. Still, the vast majority (83%) of executives say they expect to glean more value out of their EHRs within the next 5 years.

Though the study found a gap between the potential of EHRs and their actual implementation thus far, some providers are harnessing the technology’s full power.

In dissecting the survey results, PwC divided respondents along those lines, with 31% of executives fitting into the “strategic implementer” category, meaning they are using EHRs as part of a broader business strategy; and 69% of respondents indicating that their main purpose in implementing EHR was meeting meaningful use requirements.

Isgur says organizations that took a strategic approach are already using analytics to inform their business and boost value. Those entities will likely provide the proof-of-concept needed for others to follow, he argues.

“As other health systems learn lessons from these strategic implementers, we’ll see more widespread use of analytics,” he says.

For instance, 55% of strategic implementers say they’ve implemented technology to share patient data for care coordination, versus just 34% of meaningful use-focused adopters. And 76% of strategic implementers say they’ve invested in technology to improve the patient experience at their organization, versus just 44% among the “meaningful use” group.

However, even among the strategic implementers, only 27% have implemented clinical data analytics capabilities, PwC found.

One issue for healthcare organizations hoping to leverage analytics is the question of where to get the analytics software and data models. PwC suggests providers shouldn’t be too quick to go it alone. While some organizations have hired their own data scientists to craft models, the report notes that do-it-yourself systems might have a difficult time keeping up with the products created by major EHR vendors.

The study also says EHR data could become a revenue source. A handful of large healthcare organizations already package the insights gleaned from their EHR patient data, effectively providing the raw materials needed for analytical models to work.

Most of the organizations already selling data are big-name healthcare groups. When asked if analytics and population health management are mostly for large institutions, Isgur says providers of different sizes will likely use various mixes of in-house and external data and predictive models to inform their healthcare and business decisions.

“Size does matter,” he adds. “Small and rural hospitals that aren’t part of larger systems may learn from market ​leaders or they may wait on their EHRs vendors to provide analytics.”

But he says even large hospitals might rely on a mix of internal and external resources when all is said and done.

“For example, they might rely on their EHR vendors to provide the majority of the predictive models and build only a few themselves,” he says. “And as other non-traditional players enter the healthcare space looking to generate insights, we likely will see options grow.”

PwC’s full report, which was published this fall, can be read here.

Thumbnail photo has been resized. Courtesy of CDC Global, Flickr.