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Readers Write: Health Data Analytics Provides Greater Value Over Big Data

June 26, 2013 Readers Write 9 Comments

Health Data Analytics Provides Greater Value Over Big Data
By Joe Crandall

6-26-2013 6-39-39 PM

Like you, I’m tired. I am tired of the latest buzzword in healthcare circles: “Big Data.”

The problem I see as a healthcare professional is that most experts are not offering solid, realistic ideas about how to leverage data at the decision-maker level. Most articles and experts are talking about using data to fundamentally change healthcare (genomics, population health, etc.) How many times have you heard that a new something was going to change healthcare forever? These experts are doing a disservice to the large majority of hospitals and health systems out there. I suggest you forget the term “Big Data” and begin to think about Health Data Analytics (HDA).

The truth is that most hospitals have been using health data analytics to some degree for a long time. Because of external and internal drivers, healthcare organizations are now being pushed to do more with less. That means leveraging their data and tools more efficiently. This isn’t about predictive analytics . It is about giving the clinical decision maker the information they need when they need it so they can make better decisions to drive better outcomes.

Six things to think about in regards to HDA:

  1. Ignore the hype. Don’t fall for the sales pitches and doom and gloom if you haven’t bought a business intelligence (BI) tool yet. About 90 percent of the hospitals out there are in the same boat as you. The hospitals giving the “Big Data” talks have been on that path for decades and have spent millions of dollars. Not surprisingly, they are only starting to leverage the data for research. You don’t need “Big Data” — you need analytics.
  2. Be realistic. Let me say that again: be realistic. You are not going to go from a data-averse culture to a data-driven culture overnight. You aren’t going to be able to convince everyone this is the right project to invest in. Buying the best in KLAS BI vendor is not going to magically transform your organization. If you do decide to buy a BI tool, be realistic when setting expectations with a BI vendor. The implementation won’t be as easy as they say and the people won’t flock to the platform as quickly as they say. In fact, it is like every other platform IT has installed. Focus on the people rather than the technology for lasting success.
  3. Conduct an in-depth assessment. Before you start a HDA program, take an honest assessment of your current state of health data readiness. A readiness assessment saves money in the long run by clearly identifying any gaps in skills, tools, or process. Answer some basic questions first. Does our organization have a culture of sharing data? Do we have a good data governance program in place? Do we have data integrity issues? Do our people know how to use the information we can provide? Knowing where you are starting and your end goal is an important part of any project. A great assessment will help you plan to reach your goals with clearly laid out courses of action.
  4. Start small. HDA projects need to start small with scalable and sustainable processes that will allow the program to expand intelligently. While in the military, we used the “crawl, walk, run” methodology and it applies to implementing a HDA program at your facility. Do not start running with “Let’s change the discharge process” as your first HDA project. A better and more focused choice could be to crawl with “On the labor and delivery floor, how do we discharge patients before 11 am?” Start small with big results. Then grow.
  5. Grow intelligently. Once that first project is a success, look into expanding under the guidance of a strong executive sponsor and a competent governance structure. Keep in mind that you don’t need to duplicate the first project throughout your facility – you need the ability to replicate it. Duplication implies a direct copy, while replication allows variances for each situation that might be encountered while implementing the new way of doing business. Once people start to see the benefit of a data-driven culture, requests for projects will pour in and the organization will need a plan to intelligently address all requests and aggressively pursue the best ones.
  6. Focus on your people. Most importantly is the focus on the people. Each person within your organization has a decision-making maturity that may or may not be able to leverage the HDA program effectively. This is why certain programs are successful under the leadership of one person but flounder once that leader moves on. It is why someone can look at raw data and see patterns in the business and make decisions that drive action. It is why a project can be successfully run by staff while being led by an inept leader. It is the maturity of each individual that will determine the success of the HDA program, not the tools or platform.

The requirement of leveraging data to gain a competitive edge is upon us. Healthcare organizations are being asked to improve outcomes as the main driver for improving the bottom line. A data-driven culture will transform an organization from volume based to value based, but it will take time and the right people. Focus on one project initially, guided by a strong executive sponsor utilizing a process that is scalable and sustainable.

If you do this, before you know it, your organization will be utilizing health data analytics to make more intelligent decisions that will ultimately improve outcomes. You will have created a data-driven culture.

Joe Crandall is director of client engagement solutions for
Greencastle Associates Consulting.

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Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. Joe,

    Thanks for the wonderfully succinct article in which you not only define the problem, but propose a solution. We are fortunately on the right path and currently dealing with the demands that a good BI environment tends to generate. It reminds me of the old movies that depict the gold rush years. Selecting priorities and staying the course is a challenge…but it sure beats the alternative.

    Thanks again!

  2. Excuse my ignorance here, but isn’t Big Data in reference more to the collection and organization of data? My assumption was that the “Big Data movement” was to push industries, in this case, healthcare towards better collection/organization of their data to improve their ability for Health Data Analytics.

  3. Coming from someone who’s in the healthcare data trenches 12+ hours a day, your post was very thoughtful and refreshing. Thank you!

  4. This was a great read for the morning! I come from a highly siloed academic clinical research environment where most people with multiple degrees walk around making claims of how big data is going to change everything overnight. You article lent the words to my skepticism while giving me the action points to continue practical focus on. Thanks once again.

  5. HelloPanda,
    You bring up a great point. Big Data means something different to different people. Ask 25 people to define it, and you might get 25 different answers. At the HIMSS big data conference a few weeks ago, this was very apparent. While most agreed to the four V’s of big data (volume, variety, velocity and veracity) they left out the most important V – value. Big data is not a strategy or plan. It is a description of the mostly useless data the average institution collects. You get value when you approach a business/clinical problem using a data centric improvement methodology. The institutions using data for genomics, predictive models and population health are just further along the health data analytics maturity curve because they have been doing it for 20+ years. Small and medium healthcare organizations have a opportunity to “leap frog” the long and difficult path that was forged by the mature HDA organizations.

    In my opinion, the “Big Data Movement” was created to sell software and fear.

  6. @HelloPanda, I think the point Joe Crandall is trying to make is that once again buzzwords and hype are taking over the principle and foundation of what data analytics really is and means to the healthcare industry. I wonder how many HCOs have already wasted money buying something they know little to nothing about, or worse off, don’t need?

  7. Joe – This is spot on to me. I see a lot of people chasing hype and those that think they have analytics today, but when we go in and do a simple information strategy assessment the reality is everyone is in Excel all day long being data jockeys. There is a lot of simple low hanging fruit that is not getting done because people are always chasing the new shinny object.

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