The importance of health data management really hit home for me last year when I woke up from knee surgery with discharge instructions and a packet of surgery photos taped to my chest.

“Please bring this to your physician on your first follow-up visit,” read the note someone had scrawled on top. Prior to surgery, I’d also had to physically obtain the MRI images of my knee from the hospital and take them to the surgeon’s office, making the process more difficult and frustrating.

The entire experience begged the question: Is this really how we manage critical healthcare information?

Today’s patients have a greater financial stake in the care they receive, as payers and employers shift an increasing portion of healthcare costs. It’s no surprise, then, that patients are shopping around for their care, searching for the best value.

Value is about more than just the cost of care, though. It is also about the quality of the patient experience. Seamless data management—which is critical to providing a coordinated experience across the care continuum—can improve healthcare value by putting the patient first. It can elevate the patient experience and increase engagement while resulting in better outcomes and higher quality care.

The opportunities for healthcare leaders are tremendous. So, too, is the potential to make a deep impact in the lives of patients and their families.

Developing a patient-first data management strategy is essential to a healthcare organization’s success in the new era of value-based care. Here are three opportunities healthcare organizations have right now to improve patient engagement and care coordination through more effective data management.

Reconsider the use of faxing. This method for sending copies of paper documents remains a primary method for moving health data, even though it doesn’t meet Meaningful Use Stage 3 requirements. It is particularly common among hospital departments and during care transitions. To eliminate faxing inefficiencies, healthcare leaders should ask questions such as:

  • Where are faxed documents being used to share information and why?
  • Has a technical or workflow issue led to the continued use of faxing, or is it being relied on simply because “This is the way it’s always been done”?
  • Can a common technology platform better enable referring physicians and hospital departments to share data with other providers along the continuum of care?

Consider whether data sharing technology supports patients through the entire care journey. Look at the common patient pathways in your organization. In what ways could data sharing be enhanced to elevate the patient experience and improve quality of care and outcomes? For example, does the organization have a portal that patients can access from computers or mobile devices to review discharge instructions, prescribed medications and more?

Additionally, examine new opportunities to interact with patients during transitions of care, including technologies that provide patients with more provider touchpoints. Some hospitals, for example, issue mobile phones or tablet computers to patients at discharge as a way to share discharge instructions, open lines of communication and monitor those at risk of readmission.

Look for ways to customize patient communications. Consider a patient’s age, language and demographic information to identify data management technologies and processes that could help smooth transitions in care. Consider a scenario in which a Spanish-speaking patient is given the medication instruction, “Take once daily,” in English. However, once means “11” in Spanish, a potentially devastating miscommunication. A patient first view to communication could help alleviate such situations.

It’s important to ask patients how they prefer to receive communications from providers. After my knee surgery, for instance, I was pleasantly surprised to receive texts from one of my caregivers: “Hi, how is your knee feeling? Did you make your appointment with rehab yet?” This caregiver used my technology preferences to engage with me.

In the era of healthcare reform, effective data management is one key to the value equation. When the data needed for clinical decision making isn’t available—whether before, during or after an episode of care—patients suffer. Care is likely to be less effective yet more costly because of inefficiencies and waste.

Conversely, when patient data is captured and managed efficiently and shared securely with providers across the continuum of care, providers gain a more complete patient view. This patient-centric approach improves care by putting critical health information where it is needed, when it is needed.

Some healthcare organizations have devoted so many resources to their electronic health record (EHR) implementations that they now feel strapped. Yet by simply reviewing existing data management processes with the patient experience in mind, healthcare organizations have the opportunity to transform care and raise patient satisfaction.

The story of my knee surgery is a reminder of the potential that providers have to make a difference in not only patient perception of services, but also in improved patient outcomes.

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Ron Nielson

Ron Nielson

Ron Nielson is vice president of healthcare for Ricoh USA.