IT Essential to Accountable Care Organization Success: Report

Investment in IT is a crucial element as doctors transition to accountable care organizations under the federal Affordable Care Act, according to a Commonwealth Fund report.

As doctors transition to accountable care organizations, investment in IT—particularly population health analytics—will be key to their success, a report by the Commonwealth Fund found.

The Commonwealth Fund is a private foundation that pushes for better and more efficient health care, especially for the uninsured minorities, young children and the elderly.

In addition to electronic health records (EHRs) and health information exchanges (HIEs), ACOs involve integrating disparate data and analyzing it across a patient population, according to the report.

"Although information technology was found to be at a low level of development in the organizations studied, the presence of a sophisticated EHR, an HIE implementation strategy and a robust capacity for population health analytics will become more important over time due to the heavy reliance on data sharing and analytics that will be required in mature ACOs," the Commonwealth Fund report stated.

Health care alliance Premier, a Commonwealth Fund member, led the research and evaluated ACO readiness of health care organizations for the report "Measuring Progress Toward Accountable Care," released Dec. 14.

In ACOs, doctors receive a share of savings based on quality of care. This Medicare Shared Savings Program is part of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which the Supreme Court upheld by a 5-4 decision in June.

Health care IT software helps providers identify financial and clinical risk in a patient population and measure how targeted treatment may help patients. Although certain elements of preparation weren't more advanced than others by a significant margin, applications that enable physicians to manage population health had one of the lowest levels of preparation, according to the report.

EHRs were among the elements important for ACO readiness. Other aspects of ACO readiness were health system collaboration, clinical care integration, risk-based payments and strong leadership.

The authors of the report include Dr. Eugene A. Kroch, vice president and chief scientist for health network Premier, and Susan D. DeVore, Premier's CEO.

While studying 59 organizations running 88 distinct hospitals between August 2010 and June 2011, Premier found the level of ACO preparation to be "modest."

"No organization achieved full implementation of any core component, and it was common to find organizations that had not undertaken any of the activities associated with one or more of the frameworks prescribed," the report stated.

The "modest" level of ACO preparation was "sobering" because the organizations chosen to be interviewed by Premier were more advanced in their ACO readiness than others, according to the authors.

Organizations that owned health plans were the most prepared for ACOs, according to Joe Damore, vice president of engagement and Delivery for Premier.

"Those that own their own health plans appear to have the greatest number of tools in place because they are managing populations through their health plans," Damore told eWEEK in an email.

To help IT organizations prepare for ACOs, on Dec. 13 the Certification Commission for Health Information Technology (CCHIT) announced it will develop an IT framework for accountable care organizations (ACOs). It will help health care providers identify gaps in technology holding them back from meeting ACO goals.

CCHIT is an organization that tests and certifies EHRs as well as evaluates health information exchanges.

Currently, 10 percent of Americans, or one in 10, receive care from an ACO, consulting firm Oliver Wyman revealed in a Nov. 29 report.