Imagine using health information to help healthcare professionals predict their patients’ needs. Using this information, providers could better create customized care plans to ensure patients have timely access to the care or medications necessary to take a more proactive approach to managing their health – and better prevent crisis healthcare. This reality is part of the growing focus of population health information management (PHIM) and the increasing demand for health information management professionals prepared to retrieve, analyze and communicate the health data to facilitate population health management (PHM). The University of Wisconsin’s online Health Information Management and Technology program curriculum targets the skills students need to advance in population health information management.
“Three key competencies required for PHIM include clinical data knowledge and skills, information technology skills to retrieve and manage the data, and data analysis knowledge and skills to convert data into usable health information,” says Frank Waterstraat, the program manager for the UW Health Information Management and Technology (HIMT) program. “These are core competencies taught in the UW HIMT program.”
As American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) points out in a recent article, PHM programs are being seen as a possible strategic initiative for the future of healthcare organizations. However, understanding the distinctions between PHM and PHIM, as well as how they interrelate is part of the challenge facing the healthcare industry as it moves forward. According to AHIMA, PHM aims to keep healthy patients well through preventative care and prevent chronically ill patients from worsening, therefore reducing costs. PHIM focuses on the understanding and use of data and analytics to look at clinical and financial risks by converting it into useful information. Where these two practices intersect is the importance of having health information management (HIM) professionals with PHIM skills: They must be able to assess patient data and place it into emerging categories, such as well patients, at risk, and chronic conditions. Then, they must be able to ensure the integrity of clinical information at the point of patient care.
Waterstraat says the practice of population health information management is not necessarily a new specialty in the HIM field, but the advent of Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) has increased the discussion about the demand for professionals properly trained to meet the changes PHIM.
“HIM professionals have been involved in PHIM using health data registries since the 1950s. One example is cancer registries,” Waterstraat says. “With the implementation of electronic health records, the volume and access to health data is increasing exponentially. As we reassess the quality and cost of healthcare, the focus is shifting to health information professionals with a deeper, more specialized understanding of health data and the information technology required to apply PHM practices to manage chronic conditions beyond cancer.”
A significant component of PHIM is tied to understanding the role of electronic health records (EHRs) as a way to improve overall care while reducing cost. A recent review in FierceHealthIT of the previously mentioned AHIMA article notes that while EHRs don’t usually include information on the care patients receive at all organizations the patient may have visited, through proper PHIM these gaps in records and care can be reduced, and overall patient health improved.
“The fundamental principle and practices underlying cancer registries and PHM are very similar,” Waterstraat says. “The difference is in the data and its usage. We are gaining more accessible population health data via the advancements of the EHRs, allowing us to manage a greater range of disease conditions, including diabetes, hypertension, and stroke on a real-time basis.”
Waterstraat says addressing the workforce demand for candidates qualified in information technology, clinical data analysis, and the principles involved in applying these skills to PHM is critical to ensuring the future of a successful, patient-focused healthcare industry. Ensuring students have access to the most cutting edge curriculum designed to prepare them to work in the health information management and technology fields is the focus of the UW HIMT program.
“Eventually all healthcare providers will use electronic health records systems,” Waterstraat says. “Whether it is a major medical center or local doctor, these records and the health data they contain will help healthcare professionals track patients’ health status. Eventually, the hope is doctors can proactively align their services based on better predicting patients’ needs and reduce costs. Graduating professionals who have the knowledge and skills to manage, retrieve, and analyze this data for improved PHM is the goals of the UW HIMT program.”