Healthcare analytics has a long journey to delivering real value, data scientist says

Much the way consumer analytics fundamentally improved how products and services are sold, healthcare analytics will one day change the way providers deliver care. But Sriram Vishwanath contends that a lot has to happen before that day comes.
By Jessica Davis
07:24 AM

Two vastly different opinions on analytics exist in the healthcare landscape: Some organizations believe analytics to be a panacea for all evils, while the other camp contends that analytics thus far have been little more than a waste of time, albeit a promising one.

That’s according to Sriram Vishwanath, professor of engineering and data science at University of Texas, Austin, who said that neither extreme statement is entirely true.

It’s a matter of accuracy. Tools that are highly accurate can be very effective, of course, but software programs that are not can yield unreliable data and, thus, are not worth the effort.

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"Analytics should be based on measured, field-tested accuracy, and not be sold as a solve-all for everything under the sun," Vishwanath explained. "There are limitations to what any engine can do, and we should be honest about those limitations."

Big data holds incredible capacity to transform the way providers handle patient care, it’s true. But there is what Vishwanath described as a long journey ahead for healthcare to reap true value from analytics tools.

That said, at least for Vishwanath, it’s more a question of when than one of whether or not it will ever happen.

"Just as consumer analytics fundamentally altered the way goods and services are sold, and network analytics changed the way routers and systems are designed, healthcare analytics will, someday, change the way we manage care," he said.

That day will only happen, however, when the majority of analytics' stakeholders like physicians, nurses and other practitioners begin to work hand-in-hand with data scientists in a symbiotic relationship, Vishwanath said. 

[Also: CMS Transformation Networks tap analytics to improve EHR data, care delivery]

Even a team of top-notch data scientists can be rendered useless without the cooperation of the healthcare ecosystem, he added, and on the other hand a health enterprise by itself is likely too close to the problems it is trying to solve, too entrenched to make drastic improvements

"Working together is critical,” Vishwanath continued. “Neither side knows it all and each must learn from the other.”

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