How Sanford Health centralized data and analytics

Accuracy, agility, the freedom to fail and the right kinds of communication helped turn this system into a data-driven organization.
By Bill Siwicki
11:27 AM
centralized data and analytics

Sanford Health facility in South Dakota. Photo via Sanford Health

Sanford Health, a $4.5 billion health system serving a predominantly rural patient population over a six-state footprint with both payer and provider arms, was mired in decentralized data and analytics.

Two years ago, though, Sanford Health embarked on a transformative process of centralizing data and analytics, separate from its IT infrastructure. Sanford now boasts a fully centralized team covering all aspects of data and analytics, ranging from clinical to operational to human resources to health plan.

“As an organization, we saw the need for ‘One Source of Truth,’” said Doug Nowak, senior executive director of enterprise data and analytics at Sanford Health. “With lack of centralization for analytics and report development and also for data governance, we struggled with multiple answers to the same question depending on origination.”

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Without governance, Sanford Health also struggled when comparing information to external data sources and found itself moving in multiple directions from external sources when measuring such things as quality and outcomes using its own methodologies.

“Every day we seemed to be chasing different goals without a set direction,” Nowak said.

It was a long journey for Sanford Health to get to where it’s at today. And over the course of that data and analytics odyssey, the health system learned some important points.

[Also: HIMSS Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum to focus on the information revolution]

“The most valuable lesson with centralizing is leadership support,” Nowak said. “I cannot express enough the value in this as I am not sure it could have happened without support from the top. Becoming a data-driven organization was a directive from the CEO and it was understood to do this properly that a centralized structure was needed. The data governance committee was also developed and given decision authorization from the C-suite.”

Another lesson Sanford Health learned was the need for constant communication throughout the organization.

“We spotted the need for accuracy and agility and providing needs versus wants,” Nowak said. “In order to accomplish this, we needed to build an infrastructure with capabilities to provide information quickly to answer questions that are actionable. That required an acceptance and understanding from the operations world allowing us time to create this.”

Constant communication and updates were needed. Sanford Health learned early on that staff needed to tell what they were going to do versus how they were going to do it.

“We learned quickly that most didn’t care how but rather when and what we were going to get accomplished,” Nowak said.

An additional lesson was allowing the data and analytics team the ability to fail.

“I felt that if we did not see some failures along the way, we were too conservative in our approach and not willing to take risks,” Nowak said. “I do expect that when failures do happen that we learn from them, adjust and move on.”

Nowak will discuss issues surrounding data and analytics at the HIMSS and Healthcare IT News Big Data & Healthcare Analytics Forum during an educational session entitled “Building for the Future of Healthcare Data & Analytics” on Oct. 23

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
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