Joanne Sunquist, Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at HealthEast Care System, talked with us recently and shared some insights about accountable care organization (ACO) challenges and how to maximize technology investment to achieve healthcare goals. HealthEast is a community-focused nonprofit health care organization in St. Paul, Minnesota that utilizes innovative technology to provide compassionate care and a full spectrum of family health services through its hospitals, clinics and home care. HealthEast has a number of ACOs currently in place and is negotiating several additional locations.

The overall accountable care goal is to eventually increase its population of attributed lives (patients HealthEast is considered responsible for in terms of cost and quality of care) to several hundred thousand. HealthEast had only seven when Joanne first arrived.

Joanne notes that first and foremost, the most foundational technology of this strategy is a single, integrated electronic health record (EHR). Joanne was brought on to lead the implementation of one enterprise-wide EHR, which she says will be essential in helping HealthEast deliver better patient care. “For the most part, our risks have been on the upside. However, we know that eventually we will need to assume more downside risk, so we have to be prepared to manage an at-risk population, which will require additional capacity in terms of analytics and care management.”

Key to this initiative is integrating all data from HealthEast’s ACO partners into one data repository. “You need the capability to pull patient data from these disparate EHRs and correctly match that data with the patient so you can really understand what’s going on with them across the care continuum,” says Joanne. This has been one of HealthEast’s most complex challenges as it addresses the broader set of functionality requirements that go hand in hand with expanding Big Data management.

Joanne says the overall impact for HealthEast’s infrastructure has been the need to go bigger and for more robust support. This has included expanding its storage and networking capacity, and building enhanced capabilities for the various databases it has added to the mix — a big component of ensuring support for 24/7 accessibility and maximization of its investment.

Read the full discussion, in which Joanne elaborates on HealthEast’s future technology goals and offers her best advice for organizations facing similar challenges.

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