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Health IT’s Journey to Meaningful Data

There can be a lot of competing forces and crossed wires on the way to uncovering truly valuable data. But the problems keeping healthcare BI from being all that it should be aren’t always technical. Sometimes moving things forward requires a cultural change.

Maximizing business intelligence in healthcare

One of the areas in which Healthcare seems to lag behind other industries is in the way data is presented to decision makers. The umbrella term Business Intelligence is often used to envelop all handling of data—reporting, analysis, statistics—and while there is seemingly plenty of Business in healthcare, sometimes it feels we are lacking the Intelligence with the way we handle our data.

For many years there has been a strong trend in other industries toward delivering data for non-technical users for their own analysis. Instead of the arduous process of identifying, requesting, prioritizing, analyzing, developing, and testing individual reports, we now spend the effort creating frameworks that allow data consumers to create their own reports in an ad-hoc manner. There is an increasing demand for faster, more efficient data access, and ad-hoc reporting goes hand-in-hand with that need.

Overwhelmingly though, my observations of healthcare data practices run contrary these trends. The distribution of stale, static reports en masse to a largely uninterested user base has changed very little since the introduction of electronic health records. In fact, that is usually where the report specs originate: a vendor-created mainframe report that existed 30 years ago. Each report is then recreated from each new data source and each new reporting tool without regard for how useful or relevant the data actually is. Healthcare organizations must accept some of the blame for this, but admittedly much of the responsibility lies with third-party organizations, including vendors and service providers. Many tend to talk about data more often than they actually provide solutions.

Meaningful data can mean creating an internal cultural shift

The real secret to creating meaningful and timely data is creating a culture that actually wants it. Even if a framework exists to provide users with the data they need, and the training is available to show them how to get it, you still need a culture that thrives on fact-based decision-making. The users need to understand the value of the data. Often, data is used simply to confirm or deny conclusions we’ve already made, but easier access to data can be a tremendous aid to patient care, among other things.

Where the culture truly desires ad-hoc reporting, the process will suddenly become easier (and cheaper) to achieve. The solutions that result will improve patient outcomes as well as profitability. When this culture is absent, it leads to end users asking for data they will never use, wasted development dollars, and a negative impact on patient care.

The most successful reporting environments that I see combine strong, well-trained data analysts and report developers with users who are highly engaged in the flow of data. The transition to ad-hoc reporting is nearly impossible without first illustrating the power of good data. It takes a good development staff to accomplish that. At the same time, you need a structure that provides clinical significance to work that is traditionally done solely within IT departments.

Where good data flows, data consumers will self-identify as power-users. Anyone who has worked in healthcare knows a power-user: a nurse manager obsessed with utilization metrics, an anesthesiologist creating their own database to track outcomes, a materials manager who knows which supplies are needed next Tuesday. These users exist at every organization and are starved for more immediate access to data. Once empowered, they ultimately become data champions and propagate the culture that drives acceptance of ad-hoc reporting.

Once an organization enables decision makers to answer their own questions through effective data, they will understand the true value of Business Intelligence. Service firms and software vendors will continue to provide flashy presentations of the same technologies, but now maybe all those development dollars will finally feel worth it.

Author: Dan Green has worked with numerous clients throughout the U.S. in his 10+ years as a Healthcare Consultant and has extensive background in Business Intelligence. His after school job was a SysAdmin and he worked as a LAN Administrator during college.

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