Challenges, rewards of data integration
Michael Ugwueke, MPH, DHA, FACHE, executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system, notes how information needs have changed: "In the past, CEOs were judged on how they ran a facility from a financial standpoint. We looked at metrics and ratios." Healthcare reform has added clinical performance and patient satisfaction to the performance measures that top administrators need to monitor, and Ugwueke will rely on IT to keep him up to date, based on what is more and more becoming an integrated set of data.
"Going forward, finance is only a piece of it," Ugwueke states. "You have to be good in all these areas. The only way you can become good at it is to have some type of dashboard or information system that is capable of helping you understand the data so that you can take action to address shortfall areas." He will also depend on IT to document the use of care paths. "I need to know how care paths are making a difference in improving the quality of care that we provide to patients. Ultimately, that's how we'll be judged."
Generally speaking, clinical IT is "younger" than financial IT. In many organizations, clinical areas have used special-purpose software packages designed for their disciplines. This heritage of using multiple software packages from a variety of vendors makes the integration task considerably more complicated.
Says Chris Snyder, DO, chief medical informatics officer for Peninsula Regional Medical Center, a 317-bed nonprofit hospital serving Maryland's Delmarva Peninsula: "Usually financial data is very robust and functional. Often clinical data typically is not; it can be very fragmented."
In addition to providing administrators with the information they need to guide the organization, integrated data can guide clinicians as they deliver care. "We are starting to merge clinical and financial data to spot variances in outcomes and care, and look for gaps in care that may benefit both the patient and the hospital," says Snyder.
Once such analysis demonstrates its value, the desire is to deliver the information faster. Snyder continues, "Now that we are documenting electronically, almost instantly the potential is there to provide information without IT analysts being involved." Next for Snyder and Peninsula: "We are working toward predicting the resources needed by a population of patients. Financially, that is where we as an industry are going to realize some cost savings."
This article appears in the January/February 2013 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
Michael Zeis is a research analyst for HealthLeaders Media.