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September 8, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

How Payers Can Leverage Data Pipelines for 5-Star Results
By Mike Noshay

Mike Noshay is founder and chief strategy officer of Verinovum of Tulsa, OK.


A Star Rating is the essential number that drives Medicare Advantage payer performance reporting and customer influence. To improve or stay on top of CMS Stars program scores, payers need a firm grasp of how to stay ahead of the game, prepped and ready for changes in the quality data pipeline system as legislation and technology evolve.

Just one single outlier performance can count strongly against a company’s ability to achieve a good score. Did you know that moving from one to two stars is eight times more impactful on rewards than moving a measure from four to five stars? It’s essential that payers understand how to leverage data pipelines to obtain those coveted 5-star ratings.

Let’s look at how payers, providers, and healthcare IT leaders can optimize their data integrity along the entire care continuum to make informed and accurate analytic, clinical, and population health decisions that improve patient outcomes.

Patient information is the most important and crucial healthcare data. It has got to be right. We’re hearing a lot about the importance of data quality in the healthcare news lately. New legislation and technology are changing the way data is handled as well as payers and providers are upping their commitment to clean, curated quality information for patient safety and positive outcomes. Unfortunately, provider and payer organizations alike understand the value of data quality but may lack a systematic process for establishing and maintaining that quality.

Today’s payer challenges include managing a population across the continuum. Throughout this healthcare journey, payers need quality, curated, and enriched data to assign the member to an appropriate risk category and accurately assess interventions and outcomes.

To support this complex and lifelong member management process, payers must have the capabilities and technical infrastructure to support a data-driven strategy.

Payers need to be intentional in how they create aligned provider incentives for data sharing. Some of the first electronic, cross-organizational interoperability in healthcare was EDI transactions for filing claims, so payers already have a lot of experience in interoperability.

However, their main focus has been administrative and financial transactions. The event-oriented transactions of healthcare interoperability have passed them by, as have the document-style patient record exchanges (CCD and C-CDA), because these formats without quality controls and format interventions don’t meet their needs in terms of transferring patient panels, gaps in care, and coverage information.

Now is the time for payers to refocus attention on solid healthcare data interoperability standards and to remember that interoperability is not just data access – it’s about curated, enriched data that drives quality outcomes.

Having access to data and having actionable data are two different things. Including clinical data in the payer ecosystem offers both direct and indirect benefits. More data helps augment quality measurement scores directly because you can add content to the numerator and denominator. In addition, by having comprehensive clinical data at your disposal, you can create more informed risk models, make better business line and value-focused decisions, and have timely data to engage patient populations.

By vastly improving the accuracy of quality measures, you improve risk assessment accuracy and reduce administrative burden.

It’s important to remember that:

  • Clinical data is not one thing. It includes patient demographics, lab results, problem lists, medication lists, immunization records, and more.
  • Clinical data can augment claims data to improve Stars, HEDIS, and risk adjustment. And if payers can solve the problems of moving and managing the clinical data, this can be a key benefit.
  • The goal is to change the game by using that data not just to tally a more accurate score, but to connect clinical activity and claims data to do better case management, predictive analytics, and population health management.

As a payer, ensuring that you are mapping the outcomes you’re trying to achieve to those individual deployments of clinical data is essential in the context of supporting quality data measures:

  • Smart payers will expand their expertise around data, analytics, and risk management.
  • Invest in data curation and enrichment tools and practices to ensure your more valuable team members (data scientists and care interventionists) can practice at the top of their licensure.
  • Partners can provide expertise and tools related to connecting clinical data to the payer architecture.

The only way to be prepared for the next monumental shift is to have the most comprehensive data at your fingertips. Payers need to:

  • Invest in partnerships and a dedicated staffing model to manage the space.
  • Proactively learn how to use data as a predictive tool to identify trends and help see where quality measure focus is going.
  • Leverage claim data to validate emerging trends.

Organizations need to get a strong handle on the quality of the data driving measurements. We’re going to see an ever-increasing number of those measurements, rules, and scenarios. As more data starts flying around, and with a consumer-led move toward precision medicine, you must have your technology and data science teams practicing at their top license. The only way to do that is to make sure the data you’re using to inform decisions made across your organization is as complete and accurate as possible.

Partnering with experts in data quality, curation, and enrichment can help. Specialists can provide a wide range of data quality tools and governance to assist. It’s also important to provide appropriate training for staff members. Smart payers are going beyond the compliance requirements for data receipt and transfer and are working those APIs into part of their overall strategy for better member engagement. Now is the time to get comfortable with the standards, tools, and processes of exchanging that data and using health care standards. Now is the time to invest in a highly capable workforce to drive those initiatives.

The world of data is ever changing, but with investment and careful preparation, you can stay ahead of the game for your organization and the patients you serve.

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