Big Data in Healthcare and How Kaiser Permanente Uses It

Electronic medical records (EMR) has not only helped transform the medical information system to be better, it has also allowed the collection and subsequent application of Big Data that ultimately plays a major role in changing patient care in the process.

Even if Big Data faces much controversy and open data still has so many hurdles to go through in the healthcare industry, there is no doubt that this progress has pushed the industry straight into the information age and California’s Kaiser Permanente is showing what can be done with the huge influx of data they are receiving. Kaiser has been using data collected since 1993 in several ways, notably using this information to help treat the youngest patients – infants.

Kaiser Using Big Data to Help Care for Infants

Basing on the data sets maintained by Kaiser Permanente’s Division of Research (DOR) of vital signs of mothers and their babies who developed sepsis, doctors in Kaiser Permanente’s neonatal intensive care units (NICU) created an online calculator to determine the risk of sepsis in preterm and newborn babies.

According to Kaiser’s DOR research scientist Michael Kuzniewicz, MD, MPH, “Prior to the online sepsis calculator, a maternal fever of 100.4 or higher meant a trip to the NICU regardless of how a baby looked, or other risk factors, that meant separating the mother and baby, starting an IV, and putting the infant on intravenous antibiotics. Now we can be smarter on which babies we identify to evaluate and treat for infection.”

The Kaiser sepsis calculator for neonatal care isn’t the only accomplishment done with Big Data. These system-wide health care implementations for newborns and preterm infants are all because of the data received from the patient information:

  • The identification of effective strategies to reduce dangerous bowel infections in preterm infants (called necrotizing enterocolitis)
  • Reductions in the number of days infants spend in the NICU
  • Fewer blood-stream infections associated with central intravenous lines
  • Greater percentages of high-risk infants born at Kaiser Permanente facilities with high-level NICUs, eliminating the need for infant transport

Big Data Helps Kaiser Hit Statewide Benchmarks

Even with issues of patient privacy and the debate about whether who benefits more on Big Data usage, the patient or the medical company (hospital or pharmaceutical company), Kaiser has proven that Big Data can ultimately help improve patient care.

Allen Fischer MD, regional director of neonatology for the region, acknowledges that the data provided by the DOR is indispensable in helping clinicians plan their quality activities. This has been proven effective since Kaiser has been using Big Data to develop quality benchmarks and monitor hospital performance with records going back to the 1990s.

Big Data from a Medical Perspective

Modern healthcare systems produce massive electronically stored data on an ongoing basis. If this treasure trove of information is used for improving patient care and growing knowledge and research for developing effective treatments, we have successfully used the advances of technology to our advantage.

No matter how cliché the statement, “Health is wealth” can be, it is definitely something that each individual should take into account. Need not worry though, because we can provide your medical institution all the assistance you’ll need through our exceptional patient services such as billing, coding, and even back-office responsibilities. Learn more!

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Is Outsourcing Healthcare Bad?

As the demand for quality care increases and medical costs continue to spike, outsourcing has become a trend in the growing healthcare information management (HIM) industry. At present, many hospitals and health systems choose to outsource their medical transactions and processes such as back-office tasks and medical transcription and billing to third-party firms. But still, whether or not outsourcing healthcare services is bad remains a disputed issue.

More hospitals in US outsourcing healthcare services

In a recent article, Penn State News quoted Jonathan Clark, Assistant Professor of Health Policy and Administration at Penn State University, as saying that around 90%of hospitals in the United States are now outsourcing some portion of their radiology services. He also points out that hospitals are also outsourcing in other areas including their anesthesiologist staffing and emergency physician staffing.

Companies can save money with outsourcing and even improve their capabilities, according to Clark. “I believe outsourcing is something we should think about, especially when it fuels efficiency and expands access to health care, but we need to be intelligent about it so as not to put patient safety at risk.”

Removing taboos associated with outsourcing healthcare services

It turns out more healthcare providers are finding new ways to lower costs without compromising patient care. Healthcare Purchasing News has published an article that talks about removing some of the taboos associated with the outsourcing of products and services in healthcare.

Quoting Niklaus Fincher, Vice President of VHA Inc., the article said reprocessed single-use devices can significantly improve an organization’s operating limits. Many other healthcare systems are also stepping up efforts to outsource products and services that allow their organizations to function optimally in a continuously changing environment.

Why healthcare providers outsource their medical processes

Along with its growth are challenges that drive healthcare providers to outsource their medical processes. One of which is the increasing pressure to lower health maintenance costs while meeting the government standards in providing medical services. These challenges have made support functions of hospitals and health insurance companies expensive to maintain, so outsourcing has aided in those areas while hospitals focus on their main duty, which is to give direct care to patients.

Also by outsourcing, hospitals and health systems no longer have to maintain an in-house department or own a typing platform and dictation system. Thus, expenses previously allocated for equipment and people were devoted to improving the core health services, instead of spending on transcription-related manpower and facilities.

On top of all, some of the most common billing issues patients face such as getting charged for more than the insurance limit, being billed twice for one treatment, being billed for the wrong medicine, and getting unexpected charges, are now eliminated with the help of a well-structured system of an outsourcing provider.

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Why Kaiser Permanente’s Health Care Model Works

Kaiser Permanente (KP) is the largest non-profit and non-governmental integrated health care delivery system in the United States. European countries are closely looking into it as a model for their own healthcare systems. This structure, known as Kaiser Permanente’s Health Care Model, provides its 8.7 million members and patients with high-quality, cost-effective care.

It is remarkable that Kaiser Permanente can achieve such seamless integration and strong results even if it is not one organization but several cooperating entities. It operates in nine states and the District of Columbia and comprises of 8.7 million members, 14,000 doctors, and 160,000 employees. About three-quarters of these members and employees reside in California, where the company began in 1945 and has its headquarters. The program owns and runs 421 medical office buildings (for ambulatory care only) and 32 medical centers (hospitals with ambulatory care).

Bernard J. Tyson, Kaiser Permanente’s CEO, shares that this is feasible because all their employees, from its physicians to its administrative employees, share a common vision: to deliver coordinated, comprehensive, cost-effective health care that keeps patients as healthy as possible.

Why Kaiser Permanente’s Health Care Model Works

Kaiser Permanente coordinates primary, secondary, and hospital care; places a strong emphasis on prevention; and extensively uses care pathways with the help of technology using a strong IT system and electronic medical records.

Care Pathways: An End-to-End Experience

From primary, secondary, chronic disease management, ambulatory care to medicine dispensing, rehabilitation and therapy and support groups – patient care is integrated. A patient comes in at Kaiser Permanente and can get a consultation, surgery, therapy, and medicines all in one place. Care pathways have protocols involving all aspects of patient care, having multidisciplinary teams in each area. Roles and accountabilities are clearly defined in care pathways’ protocols.

For example, physicians play a part in patient care but nurses, pharmacists, and other team members are closely involved. From check-in to discharge and even follow-up treatments or consultations, the care pathway is always consulted, different and personalized for each patient.

Integrated care requires everyone involved in the patient’s care to work as a team. Each team member must focus not only on the particular treatment he or she is providing but also on the entire care pathway.

KP HealthConnect: Bringing the Power of Technology into Patient Care Management

A strong IT system is critical to making sure care pathways are followed and consulted. Patients can seek medical care across all Kaiser Permanente hospitals and accredited centers and their records and care pathways (history, treatment, maintenance, etc.) can be accessed and referred to. This is the power of KP HealthConnect. It facilitates the care pathways – bearing documentation templates, alerts, reminders, and other clinical-decision support capabilities.

KP HealthConnect has also given the health care system in Kaiser Permanente with so much information (known as big data). Whereas it was originally built to be an access point for patients’ electronic records, physicians saw the value these data can bring to research and development. They developed registries for diseases, allowing them to do research, spot trends, do preventive measures and improve care pathways.

Focus on Patient Involvement & Engagement

Kaiser Permanente intensely focuses on prevention, health education, and care management. Using these programs, they have systematically reduced the death rate from cardiovascular disease and colon cancer significantly below the California average.

They recognize that even the best care pathways will be unsuccessful unless patients take active responsibility for their own health. This is one of the reasons KP works so hard to ensure that care delivery is seamless. They encourage patient involvement by giving them electronic access to their health information and letting them consult their physicians via e-mail. They are continuously improving to help build relationships with patients, leading to trust. KP wants to make sure their patients trust and believe in them – which they can help them stay healthy and live longer.

Integrated Care: Key to Kaiser Permanente’s Health Care Model

A combination of a strong, functioning IT system with a secure data environment, strong end-to-end care pathways and a focus on patient involvement create integrated care.

No matter how cliché the statement, “Health is wealth” can be, it is definitely something that each individual should take into account. Need not worry though, because we can provide your medical institution all the assistance you’ll need through our exceptional patient services such as billing, coding, and even back-office responsibilities. Learn more!

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How Medical Device Companies Can Benefit from Outsourcing

Outsourcing for the $300 billion global medical device industry is rapidly becoming a trend, with a projection that the market for medical device outsourcing will steadily rise to as high as $44.7 billion by 2017.

While outsourcing isn’t a new phenomenon, its benefits for the medical device industry are clear. The medical device industry is under constant pressure to control costs without sacrificing research development, timelines or safety. It doesn’t help that new technologies, process advancements and a booming and aging population have led to explosive growth within the market in the past years. With its growth, regulations evolve and become more strict and complex and competition more intense. By outsourcing some of its operations, medical device original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) can take advantage of lowered operation costs, increased agility, a reduction in time-to-market and a boost on their return of investment (ROI). In turn, OEMs can transform their companies into strategic investments rather than merely cost centers.

Customer support and information technology (IT) aren’t the only aspects of the operation that can be outsourced. There are so many outsourcing models available today that can suit an OEM’s needs. Examples range from full service to targeted functions including product design, development, and production, engineering services, packaging to supply chain management to more traditional areas of procurement, finance and accounting, human resources (HR), real estate and facilities management (REFM), customer care, research and development (R&D), and, of course, information technology.

How Medical Device Companies Can Benefit from Outsourcing

1. Cost savings and improved service delivery

According to a recent KPMG survey, among 94 respondents in the medical device and service provider industries, cost reduction and improved service delivery are two of the primary drivers for outsourcing. IT outsourcing (ITO) was identified by 38% of respondents as a top means for cost reduction, while 26% of respondents viewed it as a good method to improve service delivery. In comparison, business process outsourcing (BPO) was viewed by 30% of respondents as a top means for cost reduction, while 19% of respondents believed it was a good method to improve service delivery.

2. Tapping into (better) resources

Outsourcing will give OEMs the opportunity to take advantage of resources (human, materials or machinery) than to keep it locally within their headquarters. It will ultimately be more cost-efficient to outsource production especially if operations and expertise of machinery can be better handled from outside than to bring an expert in their headquarters and then train people on how to operate.

For example, it is no question that medical devices manufacturing equipment are made primarily by Taiwan, China, and Korea. Instead of bringing in equipment to manufacture medical devices or products, it might be a better decision to outsource production operations entirely overseas to handle quality assurance and maintenance better.

3. Better focus on core activities

When you outsource certain aspects of operations, you are not reducing additional overhead and expenses; you are enhancing your ability to focus on main goals. Instead of worrying about production, you can have it outsourced and focus on marketing the product or device. Instead of training employees or recruiting new hires for additional departments like IT and HR, have it outsourced. Whereas it could take months for your business to manufacture complex innovative medical devices, a company that focuses only on manufacturing medical devices might be able to build them in weeks. By letting other experts in their respective industries handle what they do best, OEMs can focus on what they’re good at – researching and developing new medical devices to help mankind. This is similar to contracting sales companies or research organizations.

Medical Device companies can thrive from outsourcing

Not only can outsourcing be a cost-effective approach to increase speed to market, improve quality and allow your company to focus on its core business, but it can also ultimately help OEMs achieve their goal of generating more income and put out world-class medical devices.

The Challenge of Outsourcing

The challenge with outsourcing is managing the relationship. There a lot of outsourcing services opportunities in medical device companies. There must be trust between the OEM and the outsourcing provider (IT, HR, customer support, manufacturing, etc.). You need to be sure the organization can meet regulatory requirements, can stay compliant and will not cut corners. By undertaking operational efficiency improvements, creating workplace environments that promote sustainability and productivity, employing highly qualified, talented, trainable and competent staff and ensuring safety and regulatory compliance along with OEMs’ global standards, the outsourcing provider will be able to gain the OEM’s trust and can even bring more business in.

No matter how cliché the statement, “Health is wealth” can be, it is definitely something that each individual should take into account. Need not worry though, because we can provide your medical institution all the assistance you’ll need through our exceptional patient services such as billing, coding, and even back-office responsibilities. Learn more!

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