EMRs Must Support Hospital Outcomes Reporting

Should a hospital be paid if it doesn’t make its outcomes statistics public? Pediatric heart surgeon Dr. Jeffrey Jacobs says “no.” Jacobs, who chairs the Society of Thoracic Surgeons National Database workforce, recently told CNN that he believes reimbursement should be tied to whether a hospital shares data transparently. “We believe in the right of patients and families to know these outcomes,” said Jacobs, who is with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute in St. Petersburg, FL.

Jacobs’ views might be on the extreme side of the industry spectrum, but they’re growing more common. In today’s healthcare industry, which pushes patients to be smart shoppers, hospitals are coming under increasing pressure to share some form of outcomes data with the public.

I’ve argued elsewhere that in most cases, most hospital report cards and ratings are unlikely to help your average consumer, as they don’t offer much context how the data was compiled and why those criteria mattered. But this problem should be righting itself. Given that most hospitals have spent millions on EMR technology, you’d think that they’d finally be ready to produce say, risk-adjusted mortality, error rates and readmissions data patients can actually use.

Today, EMRs are focused on collecting and managing clinical data, not providing context on that data, but this can be changed. Hospitals can leverage EMRs to create fair, risk-adjusted outcomes reports, at least if they have modules that filter for key data points and connect them with non-EMR-based criteria such as a physician’s experience and training.

While this kind of functionality isn’t at the top of hospitals’ must-buy list, they’re likely to end up demanding that EMRs offer such options in the future. I foresee a time when outcomes reporting will be a standard feature of EMRs, even if that means mashing up clinical data with outside sources. EMRs will need to interpret and process information sources ranging from credentialing databases and claims to physician CVs alongside acuity modifiers.

I know that what I’m suggesting isn’t trivial. Mixing non-clinical data with clinical records would require not only new EMR technology, but systems for classifying non-clinical data in a machine-readable and parseable format. Creating a classification scheme for this outside data is no joke, and at first there will probably be intermittent scandals when EMR-generated outcomes reports don’t tell the real story.

Still, in a world that increasingly demands quality data from providers, it’s hard to argue that you can share data with everyone but the patients you’re treating. Patients deserve decision support too.

It’s more than time for hospitals to stop hiding behind arguments that interpreting outcomes data is too hard for consumers and start providing accurate outcomes data. With a multi-million-dollar tool under their roof designed to record every time a doctor sneezes, analyzing their performance doesn’t take magic powers, though it may shake things up among the medical staff.  Bottom line, there’s less excuse than ever not to be transparent with outcomes. And if that takes adding new functionality to EMRs, well, it’s time to do that.

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.