The value of any institution's store of outcomes data is enhanced by its ability to be shared and compared with other healthcare organizations.
Hospitals and medical practices are realizing the potential of aggregated outcomes data to identify ways to improve clinical processes and aid in physician and patient decisionmaking.
Data comparability gets difficult, however, when organizations use different approaches to gather and store data on the same outcomes. Databases have to reconcile all the customized strains of incoming data so the comparative value remains.
That process may get easier depending on how a newly proposed technical standard catches on in the healthcare industry.
A software program hammered out under the umbrella of the American Medical Group Association seeks to remove barriers to sharing by providing a common language for provider organizations to exchange outcomes data, said Reuben Richards, data analyst for the Alexandria, Va.-based association.
The program, called the Outcomes Data Conversion Utilities, applies to the kinds of outcomes data gathered by asking questions about medical conditions and the functional status of patients during and after treatment.
Even slight differences in how a question is asked can compromise its comparability, Richards said. Sometimes a simple coding decision can throw things off. For instance, one survey can designate male respondents as 1 and females as 2, while another survey may do it the other way around.
The software provides electronic access to a database of more than 2,000 questions in a standardized form that can be used to formulate outcomes survey instruments. Provider organizations at the beginning phases of an outcomes measurement program can search the database for the recommended way of setting up questions.
For organizations already committed to their own variations of outcomes measures, the software utility can translate data on a particular condition into a standardized equivalent, making the data available to outside databases in comparable form, Richards said.
The AMGA will use the software to facilitate its own collection of outcomes data under a 5-year-old initiative called the Outcomes Data Consortia.
Different combinations of 65 member medical groups are reporting physician and patient observations to nine separate databases covering asthma, cataract surgery, diabetes, total joint replacement, lower-back pain, hypertension and sleep disturbances.