In the wake of the Affordable Care Act, the pace of technological transformation on the patient management side of the healthcare industry has evolved rapidly, reflecting both regulatory shifts and technological advances. Population health management (PHM) represents one potent example. A few years ago the term was barely in use. Today, however, PHM is one of the most actively used terms in the industry vernacular. With the shifting regulatory landscape, healthcare as a whole is realizing greater patient engagement, collaboration and coordinated interventions. A number of specialized service coordination platforms have appeared to address this need. While such platforms are rapidly securing a stronger foothold, many of them are either rigidly specific to the environment in which they operate, or too expensive, especially for the organizations with the greatest need (e.g., the nonprofit and service-oriented sectors). Thankfully, innovations in PHM are offering valuable solutions to improve quality of care for developmentally disabled patients, as well as increasing operational efficiency and lowering costs.
As a category, developmentally disabled populations are complex by nature and require highly trained behavioral health experts who are equipped with specialized skill sets and hands-on experience. These populations also require high volume usage of specialized residential facilities. The combination of both these elements presents a unique challenge in the world of healthcare. Much of the existing technology available today focuses on the management of traditional health problems, meaning acute and chronic illnesses, and is therefore largely ineffective in assisting with the care management of developmentally disabled populations. These systems lack the ability to classify challenging behaviors, track behavior frequency and intensity, manage medications and conditions specific to developmentally disabled individuals, and monitor residential and community progress, all of which are crucial to providing holistic care and services.
In providing care to developmentally disabled individuals, it is common for multiple caregivers and staff members to support a single consumer, often entering assessments in pen-and-paper formats. The unfortunate end result is error-prone paper records incorporating different terms and descriptive language that require a laborious and manual process to properly collate, input into an electronic system, cleanse for data analysis and assess on an apples-to-apples basis. As a result, it has been challenging to identify care gaps and determine optimal treatment protocols for such complex, specialized populations. Thus, any tool that can address the underlying challenge of providing better quality, cost-effective care to these populations will have significant social and financial valuation.
To solve these unique challenges, the industry is seeing an emergence of innovative, comprehensive and—perhaps most importantly—customized platforms. One example is Virtual Health, the pioneering provider of next generation health care technology. Virtual Health has partnered with leading human services agencies such as Services for the UnderServed (SUS) to provide a set of transformational tools specifically supporting developmentally disabled populations. With the help of SUS, Virtual Health has been able to do significant research and development in the area of workflow and pathways that support optimal management of developmentally disabled populations, identifying the unique needs of behavioral health specialists and other experts in the field, and delivering a highly specialized software solution. By grafting a purpose-built set of mental health tracking tools into its medical management and population health backbone, Virtual Health has been able to provide a holistic, consistent, and technology-driven process for the management of developmentally disabled individuals not previously possible.
A key benefit of this framework is the ability to layer analytics for the purpose of conducting both retroactive and predictive research and analysis, allowing program managers to visualize, trend, tabulate, report and quantify results from selected interventions and regimens. In turn, this provides direct, quantifiable linkages between therapy adjustments and individual outcomes. The attendant ability to visualize patterns and trends in real time stands in stark contrast to traditional practices comprised of recording paper observations, collecting forms, translating diverse documentation into spreadsheet form by hand, hunting for trends or patterns, and ultimately trying to extract useful conclusions from inconsistent datasets.
The advantages of employing the newest developments in population health management for the developmentally disabled are significant and, in many cases, the use of such technologies would not be possible without the financial backing of state health agencies. For example, the vitally important efforts of SUS are supported by New York State’s Office for People with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), an agency responsible for coordinating services to more than 126,000 individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. For states like New York that offer monetary support, the significant expense of providing care for specialized populations—like those with developmental disabilities—presents a built-in incentive to identify new ways of providing higher quality, cost-effective care.
It appears likely that the next wave of progress in caring for complex populations will come from innovative healthcare organizations working with government agencies and leveraging pioneering technologies—like those provided by Virtual Health—to better manage, understand, coordinate and ultimately care for patients. By using this technology to create a comprehensive approach, record a consistent and accessible set of data points, and collaborate with interdisciplinary care teams, caregivers are able to optimize treatments at the point of care. Already the use of such technologies has been shown to reduce the costs of care for certain individuals by 50 percent or more. Although PHM solutions have primarily focused on acute and chronic patients, the work done by SUS shows that the potential impact for highly complex, specialized populations may prove even greater.