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Premier Inc. vice president Sean Cassidy onstage at HealthBeat 2013, with Venturebeat's Matt Marshall

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. — Before health care providers can handle “big data,” they first need to learn how to deal with small data.

That’s the frank assessment of Sean Cassidy, a vice president with Premier Data Alliance, a group purchasing organization that helps coordinate the health care provided by 2,800 hospitals, 56,000 non-surgical healthcare facilities, and 34,000 doctors’ offices.

He focused on the data needs of accountable care organizations, or ACOs, which aim to control costs while improving health  care outcomes by basing reimbursements to providers on the effectiveness of the care they provide. To do so, an ACO incorporates a network of physicians, hospitals, and other providers with a wide range of specialties, to ensure that patients can get the services they need within the network. That’s where technology comes in.


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“I need tools to coordinate their care,” Cassidy said, speaking from the perspective of a healthcare provider in the ACO context. He was speaking onstage today at VentureBeat’s HealthBeat conference, a two-day event focused on health IT. (That’s Cassidy, above, on the right, speaking with VentureBeat CEO Matt Marshall.)

“The game is, keep folks in the ambulatory setting, keep them out of the ER setting, and that’s how we’re going to dramatically control costs.”

But to make that work, Cassidy says, ACOs need better data. Right now, much of the data available comes from medical claims, data that is “a mile wide and an inch deep,” Cassidy quipped.

Electronic medical records systems (EMRs) would offer much deeper data on each patient’s condition and needs, enabling much more effective large-scale analysis and coordination — but EMRs are hard to work with. That’s a fact acknowledged by many of the speakers today.

“We have had trouble getting data out of EMRs,” Cassidy said. “We have had trouble with closed systems, and with walls being put up.”

For example, Cassidy said, the database records and reporting provided by Epic, one of the largest EMR providers, lacks the flexibility and the transparency that he needs to make it truly interoperable with other systems. Other EMR systems are similarly limited.

That presents a huge opportunity for startups that can help break down those walls and increase the interchange of data, he said.

“What we’d like to see is standards emerge,” Cassidy concluded. “Then everybody, let’s innovate on top of that platform, and let the best companies win.”

Photo credit: Michael O’Donnell/VentureBeat

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