More on Operations

ACOs restrained by IT obstacles

Interoperability and technology costs cited as challenges

Mike Miliard, Editor, Healthcare IT News

The ability of accountable care organizations to meet the goals of improving care and lowering costs may be hindered by health IT obstacles suggests a new analysis.

Of the 62 ACOs polled by Premier healthcare alliance this past summer, 88 percent report "significant obstacles" in integrating data from disparate sources; 83 percent say they have a hard time fitting analytics tools into their workflow; and 90 percent say IT costs and a lack of return on investment are key roadblocks to more effective implementation of health IT.

Even when ACOs have successfully merged health IT systems, "they aren't able to effectively leverage data and analytics to derive value out of their investments given the pervasive issues with data quality, liquidity and access, as well as issues with integrating data from disparate sources," said Keith J. Figlioli, Premier's senior vice president of healthcare informatics, in a press statement announcing the findings.

The numbers reported in the survey suggest interoperability is a "pervasive problem among ACOs, and it could stymie the long-term vision for ACO cost and quality improvements if not addressed," Figlioli added.

The good news is that ACOs are reporting heartening improvements in clinical quality (66 percent), preventive screenings and vaccinations (63 percent), chronic disease management (59 percent) and health outcomes (55 percent). But those percentages could be even higher.

"While accountable care organizations are providing quality care for many patients, even more could be accomplished if interoperability issues were addressed," said Jennifer Covich Bordenick, chief executive officer, eHealth Initiative. "However, the cost of interoperability can be prohibitive for many organizations."

In a Sept. 24 call discussing the report's findings, Bryan Bowles, Premier's vice president for population health solution management, noted that this new era of shifting risk from payers to providers requires a lot of these organizations, necessitating that they manage health at both an individual and population level, and make smart use of clinical, claims, financial and administrative data.

And while most ACOs have core IT segments like electronic health records and clinical decision support systems, most are not using revenue cycle management components. Without such components in place, said Tracy Okubu, senior director of HIT stakeholder outreach at eHealth Initiative, "most ACOs also report that their infrastructure is unable to effectively support patient engagement and risk management," key pieces to successful accountable care.

The good news is that once ACOs reach 18 months of operation, while they may not be operating at top performance levels, "they report substantially more advanced capabilities, data use for analytics and performance improvement associated with health IT," said Okubo.

This story is based on a report appearing on Healthcare IT News.