I’ve attended over two decades of American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) conferences in my career. But this year’s event was remarkably different.
At AHIMA23, the association’s legacy of ensuring data quality and protecting patient privacy met face-to-face with today’s most important healthcare issues—interoperability, workforce, and social determinants of health (SDOH). The association’s recent acquisition of HCPro was another harbinger of exciting progress to come. Congratulations to both groups!
Keynote speakers, education sessions, and exhibit hall attendees at the AHIMA23 Conference left me inspired and excited to see where health information (HI) professionals go next! These are certainly not your grandmother’s medical record professionals. They are health information experts engaged and directly involved in ensuring cleaner healthcare data and better data usability for decades to come.
Here are six ways that health information came to life this week at AHIMA23.
1. There’s Value in Clean Health Data: HI Professionals Ensure Data Usability
Sunday’s Sequoia Data Usability Is Taking Root workshop reinforced HI professionals’ role in driving better health data quality and usability. Led by Didi Davis, Sequoia’s VP of Informatics, Conformance, and Interoperability, the workshop provided valuable updates on how the project uses CMS’s carrots and sticks to promote interoperability. As Davis emphasized, “If the data is no good, none of our IT systems will work.”
One of the most urgent calls to action was a reduction in the volume of duplicate patient data and a stronger focus on accurate patient matching. “Duplication has become one of the most central challenges in information sharing at scale and a significant hindrance to achieving higher levels of interoperability,” according to Davis.
The importance of solving patient matching and data duplication errors was further reiterated by Todd Goughnour, MBA, RHIA, VP of HIM at e4health, during our one-on-one interview at AHIMA23. As Todd states, “Health systems should focus on data governance and make sure data is accurate on the front end. Bring HI professionals into the process at the beginning to assure data is ingested correctly in the first place and reduce dependence on back-end data cleanup projects.”
2. Healthcare Careers Trigger Frustration and Awe
Dr. Zeev Neuwirth, founder, producer, and host of Creating a New Healthcare podcast, served as AHIMA23’s opening night keynote. The duality of his message resonated with HI professionals. They are frustrated with healthcare’s laborious, repetitive, administrative processes but also inspired by our industry’s technological progress and commitment to human service.
Neuwirth encouraged attendees to look for “positive deviance.” His definition includes change leaders that make real differences and achieve significant progress in humanizing healthcare. Specific examples of both are featured in Neuwirth’s latest book, Beyond the Walls of Healthcare, available at ReframeHealthcare.org. In his closing statement, Neuwirth encouraged attendees to “think and do differently” in healthcare.
One company thinking differently is MRO Corp. The company continues to find innovative ways to improve the patient experience while addressing administrative burdens associated with payer reimbursement and clinical data exchange. The company partnered with Banner Health for an innovative session on automating information sharing with patients and other requestors. Also during AHIMA23, MRO was noted by KLAS Research for their client satisfaction and digital technology.
3. Every Stakeholder Makes a Difference, Every Use Case Makes an Impact
Jennifer Meuller, VP and Privacy Officer at Wisconsin Hospital Association and outgoing president of AHIMA, emphasized the need for working together to make a difference in healthcare. According to Meuller, “The future includes every one of us.”
Exhibit hall vendors reiterated this theme with proven intelligent process automation in a variety of operational processes. Each use case adds incremental value while relieving significant administrative burden and cost. Here are three examples:
Clinical documentation integrity (CDI) case alerts: Iodine Software uses AI and machine learning models to review data and alert CDI specialists to discrepancies between the clinical picture and physician documentation. “Alerts trigger smarter case reviews leading to more accurate final codes, better quality reporting, and proper reimbursement,” according to Fran Jurcak, Chief Clinical Strategist .
Generative AI for clinical documentation: Ambient clinical voice platforms automatically generate physician notes to reduce physician documentation times. Several were demonstrated at AHIMA and a recent Georgia HIMSS event in Atlanta including Suki.ai. The tools hold much promise but remain in early stages. To date, they are confined to physician practice notes and guardrails are required.
Experts at AQuity Solutions suggested two best practices to ensure AI-generated notes result in accurate clinical data and relieve physician workloads.
- Just like speech recognition and other voice platforms, generative AI learns over time. Carefully monitor output to be sure systems don’t inadvertently replicate faulty clinical documentation.
- Include a second set of eyes in the process. Virtual scribes or other documentation specialists should review AI-generated documentation to identify and correct errors before presenting documents to physicians for review and approval.
AI as an Enabler for Medical Record Coding: Amy Larson, VP of TruBridge (a division of CPSI), provided valuable insights into how automation will improve the clinical coding process. According to Larsson, “new technologies will serve up the codes so that coding professionals can use their knowledge and time most effectively, and code towards accuracy for value-based care and payment.”
4. HI Professionals Get Data Right, One Step at a Time
The need for more accurate and complete healthcare data was mentioned in nearly every educational session. Speakers continually highlighted the role of HI professionals as data stewards with a commitment to getting data right across data definitions, designations, and standards.
According to Debi Primeau, Founder and CEO of Primeau Consulting Group, “Health systems should begin by standardizing definitions for each document and data element, and within every EHR.” It’s a long and arduous process and HI professionals serve an essential role.
A valuable session led by Katherine Lusk from Texas Health Services Authority and Rita Bowen from MRO Corp. reiterated that multiple discrepancies abound, even within established standards such as the Core Clinical Data Architecture (C-CDA). Bowen inspired HI professionals to “join the front of the documentation cycle and lend expertise on data quality at the point of data entry.”
5. SDOH Initiatives Open the Door for HI Expertise
Perhaps the most inspiring observation at AHIMA23 was an overwhelming emphasis on SDOH initiatives to address health disparities and improve health for our nation’s most underserved populations.
SDOH data tells the most important part of a patient’s story—the personal factors that contribute to poor health and chronic disease. However, strong trust is essential to capture and then analyze SDOH data. The conversations necessary to collect SDOH data present challenges. For example, social screenings ask sensitive questions and vulnerable populations are the least likely to share private information.
In a general session, Craig Behm, President and CEO of CRISP Health, emphasized the need for organizations to “be thoughtful about what you’ll do with SDOH data and how initiatives will support your communities.” There’s never been a better time for health systems to address health inequities and build greater trust across the communities they serve.
6. Upskilling Abounds and HI Professionals Already Engaged
The last session I attended was led by a legacy EHR company with an innovative message. Now is the time to upskill and reskill the healthcare workforce. Patrick Murphy, General Manager of TruBridge (a division of CPSI) and Lindsey Hall, People Partner of TruBridge, shared the stage to discuss human-centered approaches to building a new workforce in healthcare.
From fostering a culture of continual learning to implementing skills-based career ladders, the duo encouraged attendees to focus on connections, relationships, and learning. These are the exact same descriptors I use to assess my time at AHIMA23!
Connections, Relationships, and Learning
Now’s the time for healthcare provider, payer, and public health organizations to engage HI professionals in every step of the health data cycle. They stand ready to help the healthcare industry tackle some of our biggest challenges.
HI professionals’ knowledge and expertise are invaluable, and their energy is inspiring. Keep an eye on this professional group. They’re going places!
Healthcare data is “a strategic asset that has to be managed” according to AHIMA’s practice brief on Data Governance. And there’s power in the completeness of our healthcare data. According to the National Library of Medicine, data must be clean and free of errors to extract reliable information from large data stores and make better clinical decisions. But this isn’t always the case.
At AHIMA, Beth asked these companies about best practices and data quality.