The untapped benefits of consistent patient data tracking

Physicians have become accustomed to patients with chronic conditions leaving the office, not titrating, and never making it to goal. Worse yet, despite the ongoing nature of the diseases themselves, patients only get the high-quality care they need every few months or when they become ill enough to visit the emergency room.

To address this problem, we must attack it at the source by closing the patient-provider feedback loop. Sporadic visits are not enough — providers need to collect consistent, relevant, longitudinal data that they can access easily and use consistently to provide better care.

Challenges of data collection

Despite the advantages of having a comprehensive view of each patient, providers tend to have a poor understanding of the barriers to data collection.

Here’s why so many patient data-tracking solutions fail:

The solution never establishes patient buy-in and engagement. Both at the outset and in the long term, if patients don’t understand the value that health-tracking tools provide, they will not engage those tools. If patients initially engage with the tools but never fully believe in them, those same patients will eventually stop using them altogether.

The solution does not enable simple, timely, and ongoing provider response. Often, the largest barrier to establishing a strong feedback loop is the provider’s own failure to make effective use of the patient data it receives. This problem is made worse because some patient-monitoring solutions require providers to adopt new and sometimes confusing or unintuitive workflows, resulting in either delayed or canceled provider engagement.

Non-actionable data is everywhere. Too much information becomes overwhelming quickly, creating more work than it eliminates. Patients, particularly those with multiple chronic conditions, have an unfavorable signal-to-noise ratio. If technology collects extensive data but fails to analyze or present that data clearly, even the most tenacious provider will be unable to discern what’s important.

Why data is important

Tracking disease-specific symptomology is the most direct and valuable way to support patients after they leave the clinic.

From COPD to heart failure to diabetes, each condition requires targeted monitoring for effective management. By tracking data and making adjustments as needed, groups that support Medicare and Medicaid patients may also accrue the non-face-to-face time necessary to submit for chronic care management reimbursement. The motive for data collection is not solely financial; it’s reasonable and fair for hospitals, physician groups, and similar organizations to generate new revenue through their efforts to support all patient populations.

On a larger scale, tracking patient data over time and using data to get patients to goal through better titration and disease management are the surest paths toward long-term care quality. The groups that invest in proven solutions for data collection are already realizing financial gains due to improved long-term patient outcomes.

How to track patient data

Tracking and utilizing patient data is all about finding the right tools for the job. When evaluating a potential solution, check to see whether it meets these five criteria:

1. Does the solution work for all patient populations and truly meet them where they already are? Mobile technology, such as wearables or apps for cell phones, make data collection easy without being intrusive.

2. Is it economically viable and scalable? If the technology comes from an outside vendor, how does that company break down its return on investment? The best solutions in today’s market are not only designed by healthcare professionals, but also proven through actual clinical trials.

3. Does the solution involve and align with existing resources, such as care and case managers? Consistently tracking patient data at home is a means to an end, and human capital (such as nurses and physicians) is a crucial part of the process. The best technology augments the abilities of the professionals it supports instead of replacing or frustrating them.

4. Can the information be integrated into the primary data stream? Whether that’s EHR or other tracking technology, the healthcare industry frequently faces a catch-22 with new tech. Providers can either adopt and innovate at the expense of an intuitive workflow or stick to the status quo and pay the price in suboptimal performance and poor outcomes. If data solutions are built with the provider’s actual workflow situation in mind, this dilemma will dissolve.

Don’t settle for a bad data solution or no solution at all. Find a data-tracking strategy that augments your existing capabilities and ultimately improves patient outcomes.

Originally written for Becker’s Health IT and CIO Review