Data Diligence: Understanding Clinical Quality Improvement

Nowhere is our society’s dependence on data more evident than in the healthcare industry, where treatment, compensation, and research all depend on quality reporting. Due to the high cost of compliance, however, many healthcare facilities have failed to fully adopt clinical reporting standards. Adopting these standards will lead to clinical quality improvement for patients, insurers, and healthcare providers alike.

Understanding Data Quality Rules

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Clinics and caregivers are hardly the only entities with an interest in health data. Federal and state benefit programs, private insurers, charities, and other groups regularly demand that healthcare providers adopt new standards for data recording and reporting. These standards are designed to make pertinent medical information more accessible to consumers, insurers, and technical and non-technical healthcare providers. The more consistent health data is, the easier it is for everyone involved to understand it and contribute to improved health outcomes.

Despite the manifold benefits of adopting consistent clinical quality standards, those standards place a serious burden on healthcare facilities. With rising costs and increasingly crowded hospitals, most providers have neither the resources to hire someone to update their data nor the time to do it themselves. Caregivers thus put updates off until long after the official deadline. Because many public and private benefit programs only compensate clinics that successfully adopt these standards, failure to comply makes it difficult for clinics to receive payment for their services, further straining their resources.

Even among hospitals and clinics that do comply with these reporting rules, there are often significant problems getting them to report the data accurately. The Meaningful Use e-measure program, for example, requires healthcare facilities and providers to prove that they are capable of reporting e-measures but not to resolve known quality problems or identify new ones. Many providers also fail to gather all of the relevant data or to store it all in the same databases, making even accurate records difficult to interpret.

The Benefits of Clinical Quality Improvement

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Whatever the regulations, consistent data standards will only be adopted once providers are convinced of the benefits of providing them. Despite the high cost, adopting healthcare reporting standards is almost always a good investment. The benefits of compliance include:

  • Reliable Research– Incomplete, inaccurate, or poorly stored data makes it difficult for hospitals to study and improve their current methods. If hospitals don’t include data on catheter use in their main reports, for example, it will be more difficult to figure out which patients have catheter-related infections and take measures to reduce them.
  • Easy Education– Given the rise in chronic disease rates, hospitals are increasingly focusing on educating patients about current and future conditions. The better educated patients are, the easier it is for them to avoid chronic conditions and manage the ones they already have, saving hospitals money. Healthcare providers can only educate patients, however, if they present comprehensive, accurate data in a format they can understand.
  • Practitioner Input– New data gathering methods allow caregivers to be more intimately involved in recording and analyzing data. Physicians and nurses can thus make sure that data is recorded in a way that they and their peers can understand.
  • Reduced Time Requirements– Although updating clinical records takes up time in the short term, it more than makes up for this in the long run by improving workflows. Caregivers will not need to spend as much time recording their own data, fixing the data later on, or interpreting others’ data.
  • Patient Particulars– Modern e-measure reporting methods allow clinics and hospitals to study each caregiver’s patients and identify any differences in those patients’ health or needs. Healthcare facilities can then provide caregivers who deal with more challenging patient populations with the resources to do so effectively and compensation for their hard work.
  • Future Fast-Track– Clinical data standards will continue to change, but hospitals that have experience with clinical data improvement can make further changes with minimal cost or inconvenience. The more fully a hospital adopts current standards, the easier it will be to adopt future ones.

Compliance with current reporting standards is beneficial for all of the healthcare industry’s stakeholders. To encourage compliance, governments and benefit programs should emphasize to hospitals the advantages of clinical quality improvement.