Karen Handmaker is Global Leader of Population Health Strategy at IBM Watson Health.

How automation can help busy care teams

April 20, 2017 AT 8:15 PM

It is no secret that the work burden for primary care practices is increasing. Providers and their care teams continue to care for the patients who come in regularly for appointments, and now healthcare organizations are also taking responsibility for patients who do not come into the office as well as monitoring their patients between encounters. If left unchecked, the additional work required to monitor and manage large populations can begin to cut into time spent with individual patients and lead to burnout.

A large and growing opportunity exists to innovate and refine systems to increase care team productivity. With the expanded responsibility of caring for a population of patients comes a need for automated, personalized solutions.

Automated solutions can give back time to medical professionals to do what they do best – care for patients. Watson Health solutions support providers and care managers by enabling quick identification of at-risk populations, seamless communication across the continuum of care, and flexible attribution criteria.

Northeast Georgia Physicians Group (NGPG), a large multi-specialty practice, used Watson Health technology to automate its population health management (PHM) program and prepare for accountable care.

•   NGPG coupled its EHR with an application that combined a risk-stratified patient registry with automated messaging to alert patients who needed preventive and/or chronic care. 

•   In the first 12 months, automated outreach generated more than 8,000 appointments with NGPG providers for necessary preventive and chronic care. Of these appointments, more than 5,000 were “adherent events,” meaning that the appointment resulted in closure of the care gap that triggered the outreach communication

Orlando Health, based in Orlando, Florida, is one of the state’s most comprehensive private, not-for-profit healthcare networks. Orlando Health also combined multiple EHRs with automation tools for patient outreach, reporting, and care coordination.

•   With newly available near-real-time reports from its expanded PHM IT platform, care managers could easily target patients who most needed their help.           

•   Watson Health solutions automated the process of identifying patients in need of care and engaging with patients to schedule appointments to address gaps in care.

•   The automated tools helped Orlando Health scale its PHM efforts without adding resources such as care managers.

Utica Park Clinic is a multi-specialty physician group with more than 200 providers and 55 locations in northeast Oklahoma, and is part of the Hillcrest Healthcare System. To redesign workflows without burdening its care team, Utica Park Clinic incorporated Lean principles as it implemented Watson Health solutions.

•            By using automated reminders, Utica Park notified nearly 140,000 patients about upcoming appointments. 

•            In addition, the organization utilized automated outreach to inform 65,000 patients about identified care gaps and spur 6,800 of those to action. This resulted in the generation of more than $840,000 in additional billable revenue in one year as part of a 60-provider pilot program.

These systems featured in these examples increased the number of appointments being scheduled with providers. While more appointments might sound like more work, healthcare organizations realize efficiencies when the right patients come in. Automated solutions can help identify patients who need to be seen by their provider and provide intermittent outreach to patients to keep their health care on track. Population health and care management is usually high-touch work. With the right automated tools, providers and care managers can save time while still providing excellent patient care.