Physicians are good at taking care of a patient, but only now in the era of population health are many of them learning to take care of patients as a group.

“It’s a different science when it comes to taking care of a patient population,” says Munzoor Shaikh, a senior manager at the West Monroe Partners consultancy in Chicago. Providers need to separate and group patients in meaningful ways and then manage distinct patient populations.

That’s difficult to accomplish in any setting, but even tougher when providers merge and have two or more different electronic health record systems. Trying to manage populations on different EHRs isn’t going to work well, Shaikh says; what is needed is a comprehensive single patient record--one source of truth.

“When a hospital buys another hospital, you exist as two different patients in two different systems,” he adds. “No one knows you are the same patient.”

A single patient record should contain all treatment given to a patient from multiple provider organizations, as well as lifestyle, environment and social factors that may affect their health such as housing conditions and access to transportation.

Shaikh serves on the board of an organization that helps uninsured persons get treatment. He recalls a gentleman who had 50 emergency room visits in a year. It turned out the man was homeless and getting sick so much because he was outside so much. The organization got him into an apartment complex and the following year he only had a handful of visits. “The fact he was homeless was not a data element captured in his medical records,” Shaikh says. “He had a dozen records across organizations.”

With a single record, a delivery system or large multi-specialty group practice may have a system of clinics but clinicians and staff members have a patient’s complete information, making patient intake faster and care coordination easier. Unfortunately, according to Shaikh, “this is not something happening today.”

The reason for mergers is almost always financial considerations, but data integration needs to be a part of merger and acquisition planning, Shaikh counsels. “Data integration is a huge source of synergy and that’s an issue often ignored. You need to have a clear integration strategy including processes and IT that integrate. Sometimes it makes no sense to integrate a certain process or technology. Quantify expected synergies from each integration and hold yourself accountable to them.”

Often there are too many goals in M&A activity and organizations can lose focus, so it is important to make sure that integration is an early focus, he adds.

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