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Analytics Help Health Systems Improve Quality, Lower Costs

By Philip Betbeze  
   September 06, 2017

Data can help establish strategic priorities at healthcare organizations, but only with effective analysis of that data can critical, lasting impacts on quality improvement and cost reduction be achieved.

Data without organizational tools is like trying to find your way around a dark room that you’ve never been inside. You can feel your way around using intuition and logic, but progress is slow, and mistakes can hurt you.

In healthcare, data is ubiquitous, but it's also largely unstructured and unanalyzed, as anyone who has tried to interpret it knows. This problem has left the industry in a dark room in terms of using that information strategically—until recently.

Developing operational and strategic imperatives from all that data is dependent upon analytics—the discovery and interpretation of meaningful patterns. Analytics, to extend the analogy, is a necessary source of light. To deal strategically with everything from eliminating variation in clinical interactions to reducing overutilization to improving patient outcomes, healthcare leaders need technological solutions to assist clinician decision-making at the care site, where the majority of decisions involving cost and outcomes are made.

For these and other reasons, leaders are making critical decisions on the tools that will help them make sense of their data to not only drive smart clinical decision-making, but to allocate scarce resources toward gaining efficiency and competing on cost. 

Analytics, in short, is critical to demonstrating value, says Richard Vaughn, MD, chief medical information officer at St. Louis–based, 20-hospital SSM Health.  

“The differentiator in the marketplace will be folks who have the data in the right format and know how to use it,” he says. “Analytics helps us use our data as a strategic resource.”

To enable that strategic resource, he adds that the data has to be clean, organized, and it has to connect to the health system’s care delivery platform.

“We have to get the data oriented properly and then make sure it’s sitting in the care delivery stack,” he says.

Analytics helps make the connection between higher quality and lower cost, says Timothy Sielaff, MD, the chief medical officer at Allina Health in Minneapolis. He says the 12-hospital health system is probably ahead of the curve in using data to find meaningful insights that can translate to higher-quality care, and the virtuous circle that results from higher-quality care is that it’s also less expensive.

“The highest-cost care is almost never the highest quality,” he says. “In fact, the incremental cost-effectiveness ratio rarely favors more expensive and better.”

Also critical to effective insights from data analytics is the ability to attribute data to individual practitioners, says Kathleen Sanford, RN, senior vice president and chief nursing officer with Catholic Health Initiatives, largely because individuals don’t generally accept conclusions from aggregated data as readily as they do from their own data.

“It’s difficult even now to get people to accept evidence-based practices unless it’s their own evidence,” she says.

CHI’s goals with analytics is to measure individual providers’ quality outcomes, lengths of stay, and readmission rates, among other statistics, to help convince practitioners to share tactics that work to improve quality of care on both an organizational and individual level. Such data spurs competition and cooperation, because clinicians, without fail, want to provide the best possible care to their patients—they’re just not always sure how to achieve that goal. Without data, they rely on intuition and training, which isn’t always backed up by the evidence.

“When I first came to CHI 10 years ago, the reports of our results were blinded by organization,” she says. “We not only made [the results] unblinded, we’re able to compare each organization not only with each other but also with the rest of the country. So just in 18 months, we’ve had a 22% decrease in pneumonia mortality, a 42% decrease in CAUTIs, a 9% decrease in CLABSIs, 31% decrease in colon surgery infections, a 19% decrease in hysterectomy infections, and 14% decrease in pressure ulcers.”

To view the complete HealthLeaders Media Roundtable report “Impactful Analytics: Driving Clinical, Financial, and Cultural Change,” click on this link.

Philip Betbeze is the senior leadership editor at HealthLeaders.

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