Doctors can greatly improve healthcare and their patients’ experience by more efficiently using the data and technology at their disposal, according to longtime American Heart Association volunteer Vincent Bufalino, M.D.

Bufalino, senior vice president, Advocate Heart Institute, Advocate Health Care,  outlined the concept of “population health management” during a speech Sunday at the Healthcare Information Management Systems Society annual conference.

Population health management uses data and technology to centralize patient information, making the process more manageable and improving the quality of care. That means a better experience for a heart attack or stroke patient who may be seeing multiple doctors, getting prescribed a number of different medications and interacting with several parts of the healthcare system, he said.

“The old model of care was based more on fee-for-service and emphasized volume,” Bufalino said. “We are now moving to a new model of care that emphasizes care coordination based on value. That translates for better care for individuals, better health for larger populations and lower costs for healthcare providers.”

Bufalino said the trend toward using new technology, particularly electronic health records, in improving quality of care has been spurred by the Affordable Care Act and recent financial incentives for healthcare providers.

Bufalino said population health management should include three important components:

  • The patient is the focus of the healthcare system. Care should be coordinated across the different providers, and the patient should have the tools to engage in the care plan. The patient is a member of the healthcare team.
  • The doctor should have a medical history and the ability to easily access lists of medications and even the results of recent labs. Healthcare providers should be able to communicate with the patient by text, phone or email, and the patient should be able to track and monitor progress.
  • Doctors should have access to research-based treatment guidelines so they can develop a care plan with the patient based on the most up-to-date science.

One of the tools doctors now have is a program called The Guideline Advantage, which enables use of electronic health records to connect patient information and provide enhanced screening for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The program was created in a partnership that combines the tools and resources of the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society and the American Diabetes Association.

“As we continue to talk about how to improve health care through technology, we must continually remind ourselves that the focus must be on the patient,” Bufalino said. “The patient must be at the center of our work. As long as we keep the patient in the forefront as we use these new tools, we can improve the quality of health care for all.”

Photo by Barry Wightman

Editor’s note: Updated April 16, 2015, to correct Bufalino’s title in second paragraph