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Readers Write: All Aboard the Analytics Train! Next Stop, ROI!

November 4, 2015 Readers Write 2 Comments

All Aboard the Analytics Train! Next Stop, ROI!
By Jeff Wu


HIStalk-ers may be familiar with Zubin Damania, MD (aka ZDoggMD), a primary care physician turned health pop star. ZDoggMD has been featured on TED and produces parody videos on YouTube of our dysfunctional healthcare system.

Dr. Damania’s videos are loaded with hilarious and witty lyrics with often deep and powerful commentary on what it’s like to practice medicine in the US. His most recent video pokes fun at EHR implementation and highlights a laundry list of relevant complaints about what EHRs have done to negatively impact many providers’ care of patients. Dr. Damania’s criticisms aren’t so outlandish as to propose going back to paper, but he does make the case that we need a new and better EHR environment.

While he makes a valid argument, we also need to consider that the greatest value that EHRs provide has barely been touched.

As of September 2015, CMS’s Meaningful Use program has doled out approximately $31.6 billion in incentive payments for the adoption of Certified Electronic Health Record Technology (CEHRT). While EHR implementations have proven valuable immediate effects — such as reduction of adverse drug events and medical errors — it would be difficult to make the case that these benefits would provide the magnitude of ROI necessary to justify their costs. CMS’s own projections and several post-MU studies have demonstrated that the types of immediate benefits achieved from CEHRT will recoup only a fraction of the MU program’s cost.

What gives? Why would CMS knowingly implement a program that they knew would not provide the immediate ROI necessary to pay for its implementation?

The intention was never to achieve ROI purely on efficiency gains, optimized billing, or reductions in medical errors. What CEHRT provides is data – to an unprecedented degree.

The real value in CEHRT is the way we are getting insights into how disease and injuries progress and react to treatments. The vast volumes of data mean that we are seeing things in novel ways for the very first time. Advances in both hardware and software means that the old days of manual chart abstraction or fragmented tables in antiquated or siloed databases are being replaced with dynamic analytical platforms that can be leveraged cheaper and more effectively.

Analytics is the way to ROI and the industry is finally moving to embrace this. Several industry reports are already seeing an influx in investments into analytics. Big tech players including Google and Microsoft predict healthcare analytics to be a key area of growth over the next few years.

This is a logical next step in healthcare’s technology maturity that we’ve been talking about a lot, even here on HIStalk. While analytics is a hot topic, who it benefits is surprisingly overlooked.

Our discussions of ROI have to be with our end users in mind. Analytics offers us an important opportunity to re-engage our disenfranchised healthcare workers. Our doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and desk staff all have contributed to the data we now have. They should be the ones to chiefly benefit from the coming data harvest. I have yet to meet a doctor or nurse who didn’t have a dozen questions they knew could be answered from data within the EMR, but did not have the tools to do so. That simple fact should be both a mark of shame and a call to action to every health IT worker.

We are on the verge of shifts in practice that can be truly groundbreaking. The information revolution started by the dot-com boom in the 1990s paved the way for companies like Amazon and Zappos to transform whole industries. These adoptions of technology and analytics are being implemented by other sectors at an even faster rate (Uber, Airbnb, Square). If we in healthcare can embrace the power of analytics and purposefully drive their output to end users, we can start tapping an endless supply of ROI.

The optimism behind analytics does not diminish the challenges the next evolution in healthcare information technology will present. All the “big data” and “data governance” buzzwords are valid, but not insurmountable, and the insights we stand to gain are priceless.

The next buzzword is already circulating—closed-loop analytics. It’s the intentional, purpose-driven effort to get analytics to end users for decision making as near to real time as possible. It’s the attempt to engage end users to a degree that the outputs of our analytics serve purposeful functions in their actual practice rather than a retrospective review of what’s happened.

This progression in healthcare technology is the necessary (and hopefully welcome) change that can make the biggest difference in rejuvenating our staff and demonstrating some much-needed value.

Jeff Wu is a population health researcher with UW Health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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Currently there are "2 comments" on this Article:

  1. Yep. Knew it from the SECOND I met ya – you’re BRILLIANT!! I never doubted but am impressed at your writing skills – you make me nod while I read. Strong work, Wu!

  2. I concur – Jeff is the absolute best! You hit the nail on the head – the data coming out of health IT will be transformative. EHRs are still taking their baby steps in usability but it will come, it will come. At the same time that we up our game in data analysis we need to improve tools that will guide providers toward accurate and complete documentation, without adding further burden to a hectic clinical workflow. Nice commentary, Jeff!

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