Data Analytics Journey Starts By Asking The Right Questions

Healthcare data is critically important. It holds the secret to optimized workflows, improved patient experiences plus sound financial planning…and that’s just what we can do TODAY with the data. With artificial intelligence, machine learning and advanced analytics who knows what value we will be able to squeeze from the terabytes of data we generate in healthcare each day.

Storing, protecting and managing all this data, however, is a challenge for many healthcare organizations. Some do not have enough talented IT staff to make full use of their data assets. Some do not have the right tools to fully leverage their data sources. Some lack the political and operational cohesion to create an organization-wide data strategy.

The solution is to start small and actively resist the temptation to consolidate/normalize every source of health data before making it available for use. Laying a solid data foundation is certainly key, but it is equally important to get stakeholders on board with your data analytics initiative. The best way to do that is demonstrate tangible results from the insights gained through that data.

“We see healthcare organizations coming to recognize that data is a critical issue,” says Bill Kotraba, Vice President of Healthcare Solutions and Strategies at Information Builders, a company that makes a scalable software solution for data management and analytics. “But they’re struggling to implement it as part of a larger strategy. The ones we’re talking to are trying to prioritize digital experiences for patients, succeed in a value-based world, and leverage advanced technologies like AI and machine learning.”

Recently, Information Builders embarked on a campaign to help educate healthcare organizations on how to best start their analytics journey. At their annual user conference, several healthcare clients presented their success stories with a particular focus on getting and sustaining executive buy-in. At their recent Public Sector Symposium, their clients reinforced the need to master soft skills in order to achieve analytics success.

Information Builders has also been running a webinar series featuring healthcare organizations who are well on their way to being data-driven: Flagler Hospital and St. Luke’s University Health Network. Below are the links to the on-demand webinars:

  • Webinar 1: Managing the Healthcare Data Value Chain From End to End to Break Down Data Silos (featuring Flagler Hospital)
  • Webinar 2: Case Study – Taking an ROI Approach to Creating a Foundation of Data (featuring St. Luke’s)

My key takeaway from both these webinars was how critical asking the right questions is to the success of a data analytics project. That’s why I’m excited to be part of the third webinar in the series on Tuesday December 3rd at 2:00pm ESTManaging Data as an Asset: A Roundtable Discussion.

Rather than a traditional lecture-style presentation, we’re trying something more dynamic – a live roundtable discussion with experts from St. Luke’s and Information Builders. Together we’re going to explore data analytics by asking each other questions with a goal of teasing out practical advice on how to best start, maintain and scale data analytics and management initiatives in healthcare. It’s going to be a fun discussion!

Here is just a sampling of the questions we plan to cover:

  1. What tactics have you found effective at making data useful and actionable vs just pretty to look at?
  2. What was the first question you wanted your data analytics project to answer? Was it financial? Operational? Clinical?
  3. What key questions should healthcare leaders be asking of their data?
  4. Where is data underutilized in healthcare today?
  5. What data should be used that is not currently factored into clinical or operational decision-making?

To help prepare for the roundtable, I crowdsourced answers to these and other questions.

Below are some of the answers we received for Question 2:

Financial + Operational + Clinical – Timothy W Boden, Executive Director, Physicians & Surgeons OBGYN

All three. They’re inextricably related. In private practice (physician-owned, my domain), the goal is to treat as many patients as possible, as efficiently and economically as possible, and to maximize (optimize) revenue and expenses to meet or exceed the physicians’ expectations. That makes us stewards of the socially critical resource called physician care.

Cost to Care for Patients – David Chou, CIO, Luye Medical Group

Every healthcare organization needs to answer one simple question with their clinical, financial, and operational data – How much does it cost to take care of a patient?  Transaction breakdown must be tracked down to the line item like a bill of material.

Performance Improvement – Dan Foltz, Program Director, Enterprise Data, Warehousing and Analytics Implementation, St. Luke’s

Our first target for analytics was to support our existing hospital quality department with their network-wide performance improvement program. It was an existing mature program, but they needed better data capabilities and our legacy data hospital EHR & reporting system were being retired, so a replacement was needed. This first objective was not necessarily the most strategic objective.  Rather it was a practical first step, that practically assured success…low risk of failure. Quality was a mature program that knows what it wants. There was an existing business process, the users had very well defined requirements, the data was familiar, etc.

Why did you embark on your data journey?

Foltz, who will be participating in the roundtable discussion, alongside colleague Amanda Mazza, Senior Director of Analytics and Business Intelligence, also had this to offer on the question of: Why did you embark on a journey to step up your game with data? What was your strategic objective:

A senior executive steering committee was formed to define a strategy for leveraging data. We wanted to step up our game with data. The committee identified the following objectives under the mantra “Leveraging data to create value”:

  1. Understand population needs
  2. Identify people who need care and get them into the system
  3. Deliver consistent high quality care
  4. Know where and why patients use services
  5. Increase compliance with care recommendations
  6. Reduce waste and inefficiency
  7. Increase revenue & market share
  8. Allocate resources to match market needs
  9. Succeed under emerging payment models

I highlighted three objectives to provide some additional explanation. Healthcare is used to treating people when they show up. But it’s becoming obvious to everyone in healthcare that we need to become proactive at identifying people who need care and encourage them to get the care they need.   With data we have the means to accomplish that goal. That was different because it’s no longer just about using data when patients show up….it’s now also about using data when patients are not showing up.

We do a lot of analysis to identify the best locations for our services. Making healthcare more convenient to access is key to growth and competitive differentiation. And while a lot of current focus is on digital, which is important, over the past several years we have aggressively added urgent care centers, PCP & Specialty practices and lab draw stations. And we are continuously adding multi-specialty centers to make it easier for patients to access services under one roof. Identifying good locations and deciding what services to place at a location is both art and data science. With our robust data capabilities that include geo-analytics, we excel at evaluating locations.

Also, payers are increasingly moving providers into value based payment arrangements. We knew we needed new capabilities to succeed under emerging payment models. We needed the ability to identify with data which programs have reasonable performance targets and well aligned incentives? And we needed data capabilities to continuously monitor & manage performance under value based contracts.

More Than Just EHR Data

“Healthcare organizations are starting to realize that their EHRs really don’t provide a sufficient foundation for analytics,” continued Kotraba. “The idea that they need something more that the EHR can meet some resistance sometimes, but organizations that talk to multiple stakeholders – focusing on data as an enterprise asset and competitive differentiator – they’re the ones that break out of the EHR rut and start to make strategic progress.”

I hope you can join Mazza, Kotraba, Foltz, and I for this unique live roundtable discussion. Click here to register.

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About the author

Colin Hung

Colin Hung

Colin Hung is the co-founder of the #hcldr (healthcare leadership) tweetchat one of the most popular and active healthcare social media communities on Twitter. Colin speaks, tweets and blogs regularly about healthcare, technology, marketing and leadership. He is currently an independent marketing consultant working with leading healthIT companies. Colin is a member of #TheWalkingGallery. His Twitter handle is: @Colin_Hung.