The next big wave: data warehouse

Providers looking to data for answers to better care at lower cost
By Bernie Monegain
01:00 AM

While compared with other industries – financial, retail, manufacturing, for example – healthcare has been slow to recognize the value that data and analytics could have on both the clinical and the business sides of the house – the hospital and integrated delivery network, or the physician practice.

Perhaps that’s why a small, 6-year-old company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is growing by leaps (80 new employees in 2013) and landing contracts for its healthcare data warehouse, reeling in the big fish – and smaller ones, too. Some of the most recent organizations to sign on were Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, Partners HealthCare in Boston and Memorial Hospital of Gulfport in Mississippi.

The timing makes sense to Dan Burton, CEO of Health Catalyst, which has its roots at Intermountain Healthcare, and which today is inundated with requests for its data warehouse offering, cum analytics with an array of applications from which to select, and hundreds more in the making.

This newfound interest in housing data and using it to improve care quality and wring out waste came about with the broader uptake of electronic health record systems across the country.

With paper records, there was no need for a data warehouse. “You need file folders,” Burton said. “You don’t need an electronic data warehouse.” But, all that is changing rapidly.

“Healthcare IT's potential value is changing in profound ways,” Gartner analysts Vi Shaffer and Mark A. Beyer wrote in a Feb. 10 report. “While the big value boost started with electronic health records, efforts must be heavily directed to advancing the state of retrospective and real-time analytics. Superior use of analytics will be a dominant factor in health system success for the rest of this decade, and it is a growing component of the CIO work.”

Burton could not agree more.

“Think about the external environment,” he said. “Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, risk-sharing models, fee-for-service to fee-for-value. All of that requires a health system to get good at its cost structure. You can’t manage the cost structure if you don’t have the data about what’s actually going on. You can’t do that without a data warehouse. You can’t do it systematically. You can do sort of one-off projects here and there, but most health systems I’m talking with are looking for 10 to 30 percent cost structure reduction. They want to bend the cost curve.”

Once EHR adoption began to take hold – spurred by the government’s meaningful use initiative – the calls started coming in at Health Catalyst, and they have grown tenfold year over year, Burton said. Web traffic and requests for proposals have grown at the same rate, all the more telling, Burton said, because an RFP indicates that the organization has gone through a formal process. “They’ve identified that ‘we need this.’ ”

“The pressure is mounting,” wrote Joe Van De Graaff, in a report from Orem, Utah-based research firm KLAS last January. “Providers see analytics as a strategic compass for the changing healthcare world ahead, and their need for better results and better ways to understand outcomes through data analytics and BI is critical.”

Health Catalyst was the sole company with enough data warehouse clients to warrant a KLAS grade. It received 90 out of a possible 100. The others – big names all – could not be rated for lack of implementations that are live in the healthcare sector. They included Deloitte (Recombinant), Explorys, Healthcare Data Works, IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, Oracle, Premier, SAP (Sybase), and Teradata.