Obamacare, Open Data Could Drive Health IT Innovation

Government regulations and open data initiatives inspire investment in platforms that support accountable care organizations.

Although many companies have yet to fully implement the Affordable Care Act, the law known as Obamacare could drive an increase in new health IT startups and innovation.

"Data that supports medical decision making and collaboration, dovetailing with new tools in the Affordable Care Act, are spurring the innovation necessary to deliver improved health care for more people at affordable prices," U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wrote in a May 28 blog post.

Allowing doctors and hospitals to be reimbursed for outcomes and the value of their care rather than simply for procedures and tests is the goal of the ACA. Doctors are forming accountable care organizations (ACOs) and using this data to increase transparency in the quality of care.

Software company Lumeris (formerly ClearPractice) offers the Accountable Delivery System Platform (ADSP) to provide a view of population health and analyze data across a care continuum, including medical claims, electronic health records (EHRs), data from patient visits, as well as lab and pharmacy data.

HHS has organized Datapalooza events as part of a Health Data Consortium to encourage companies to integrate its open data into their health IT platforms, as Aetna did with its CarePass platform. The next Datapalooza takes place June 3 and 4 in Washington, D.C.

"Entrepreneurs and innovators across the country are developing and deploying new data-powered IT tools to help clinicians succeed at delivering better care at lower cost," U.S. CTO Todd Park wrote in a May 28 blog post. "These tools are giving clinicians the ability to measure how they are doing, compare how they are doing relative to others, and set and meet goals."

This information will also help doctors eliminate gaps in care and be able to better monitor patients' conditions, according to accountable care advocates.

"The combination of Obamacare regulations, incentives in the Recovery Act for doctors and hospitals to shift to electronic records, and the releasing of mountains of data held by the Department of Health and Human Services is creating a new marketplace and platform for innovation—a health care Silicon Valley—that has the potential to create better outcomes at lower costs by changing how health data are stored, shared and mined," New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote in his May 25 column. "It's a new industry."

Friedman described the work of Dr. Jen Brull, a family medicine specialist in Plainville, Kan. Brull increased the number of her patients getting colorectal cancer screenings from 43 percent to 90 percent by sending alerts from her EHR platform, Friedman wrote. Following these alerts, three of her patients were able to detect cancer at an early stage.

Access to data on diagnoses, medication and lab tests will help doctors improve the quality of care, Friedman noted.

Obamacare's success will depend on its ability to make health care more affordable, according to Friedman.

"That remains to be seen. But at least it is already spurring the innovation necessary to make that happen," he wrote.

Although some health IT startups are forming due to the need to support systems for ACOs, most health IT startups are developing as a result of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act rather than Obamacare, said Shahid Shah, CEO of IT consulting firm Netspective Communications and author of The Healthcare IT Guy blog.

"Today's health IT startups are being created primarily because of the HITECH Act, which has spawned spending in EHRs and related tools, but that's generally caused by what I call 'false demand,'" Shah told eWEEK in an email.

"False demand" consists of doctors' practices and hospitals investing in EHRs to qualify for incentive money rather than investing in software that improves clinical outcomes, reduces costs or grows revenue for organizations, Shah explained.

"Time will tell, though, if either HITECH or the ACA have a long-term effect on startup valuations going up or if we will see a quick bubble due to false demand," he said.