Post filed from Atlanta, Georgia. 

John Self joined Stephanie Drake, senior executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration (ASHHRA) of the American Hospital Association (AHA) as keynote speakers to the American Health Information Management Association (AHIMA) House of Delegates opening session on Sunday.  His post reflects his thoughts from this conference.


AHIMA-logoThe guardians of medical records – those professionals who work in health information management (HIM) – find themselves at the nexus of healthcare reform and deficit reduction and their organization’s ability to succeed in population health management.  It is a dramatic new role for this group of dedicated professionals and it is one of the focal points being discussed at the annual meeting of the American Health Information Management Association.

Formerly known as medical records administrators and technicians, this group is now preparing for an expanded position in data governance and applied analytics.  Simply, this means that as health systems and hospitals move into the field of population health management, HIM professionals will be expected to assess the risks of their patient population and to provide senior leadership teams with actionable intelligence to guide strategic planning and tactical operations.  As I said, it is a big change for this group, and they are moving quickly to establish information governance structures to guide their work in what will soon be a critical component of a hospital’s decision support system.

Virtually every hospital is sitting on a treasure trove of valuable information that can help CEOs and senior leaders make the right calls – patient medical records.  Currently, however, little is being done to harvest this data in such a way that it can be used to make critical decisions.

You would think there would be a rush in hospitals across the country to bring HIM managers into the leadership circle to begin tapping this potential gold mine.  Not so much, at least not at this stage.  Why?  Because the vast majority of healthcare executives see their leadership scope of responsibility primarily as oversight of brick and mortar – beds – and other tangible assets that lead to an increased tests/procedures/admissions outcome.  As one long-time health information management practitioner explained in a thought-provoking workshop, “that train is not just on the tracks, it has left the station!”

She is right.  Within seven years, hospitals will either have figured out how to shift to pro-active population health management in a way that makes business sense, or they will face an uncertain and probably painful future.

Hospital leaders cannot afford to put off this important initiative until after they understand all of the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.  By then it may be too late.