Providers embracing clinical & business intelligence

'IT cannot explicitly drive your analytics and big data efforts; the drivers need to come from the business and clinical side'
By Mike Miliard
10:12 AM
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Analytics and mobile devices

HIMSS Analytics' DELTA Powered Analytics Assessment, developed in conjunction with the International Institute for Analytics, is an industry-first maturity benchmark to track how well health providers are making use of their data for clinical and business intelligence. (The DELTA stands for Data, Enterprise approach, Leadership, strategic Targets, and Analytical capabilities.)

[See also: Some providers more 'mature' than others]

While provider progress on the scale has been incremental over the past year, says James Gaston, senior director of maturity models at HIMSS Analytics, the embrace of C&BI tools has certainly been in earnest.

"The biggest thing we've seen is a huge amount in the healthcare provider space to begin to build up basic analytics capabilities or advance current capabilities," says Gaston.

[See also: Allina goes all in for outcomes with Health Catalyst]

His colleague Lorren Pettit, vice president for market research at HIMSS, has seen similar signs that healthcare – at long last – is starting to see the transformative potential of analytics, just as most other industries have for years.

Attending the American College of Healthcare Executives' 2015 Congress on Healthcare Leadership this past March, Pettit noticed that "a lot of the focus and discussion was on the need to bring data analysts into our industry.

One topic that was much talked-about was the fact that "it's not necessary that healthcare people are the analysts," he said. "There are data scientists that do a lot of this work."

Many of them would be more than happy to help make sense of some of this stuff for clinicians, staff and IT folks with so much else on their plates these days. With hospitals swimming in data, smart analysts could be better brought to bear on deriving insights from it all.

"That seems to be a gap that's being acknowledged more and more by those who are in the know," says Pettit. "When we talk about big data, people are now starting to recognize that there are a lot of challenges. And part of that is just: 'Who's going to do the heavy lifting on this?'"

The question, he says, is "how do we bridge that gap between people who are data scientists and the need to tell the story in the context of healthcare."

Outsourcing may be one strategy, for those so inclined – even if it's not on the scale of the bold deal announced in January by the 12-hospital, 90-clinic Allina Health – which, in exchange for a $100 million investment in Health Catalyst, will outsource its data warehousing, analytics and performance improvement projects to the company.

Even if pure outsourcing, even on a much smaller scale, doesn't quite look to be a looming trend, however, "people are recognizing the challenge," says Pettit. "We have this skill set is required; where are we going to get (analysts) from, how do we engage them?"

And there are challenges to bringing in analytics mavens who may not be able to speak the lingua franca of the modern hospital, he adds.

"One of the ways big data could actually fall apart is if we bring in data scientists and they don't know how to connect with the audience," says Pettit. "If they're all about talking about their methodology, but are unable to connect and tell (senior leaders) why it's important, that's one way that the audience would just marginalize them and move on."

Big decision-makers

That sensitivity to the business or clinical imperatives of an organization is key, says Gaston.

"IT cannot explicitly drive your analytics and big data efforts," he says. "The drivers need to come from the business and clinical side. And what I've seen in most organizations recently is they're putting a lot of this focus on data from the CMIO's office."

That particular C-suite role "has a pulse on how is the organization delivering healthcare," he explains. "He or she has the best opportunity to identify areas that could benefit, whether it's with just plain Jane basic analytics and reporting, or more advanced predictive analytics or leveraging big data."

On the other side, of course, are the business decisions, normally under the purview of the CEO and, especially the CFO, who is "driving accountable care contract negotiations," says Gaston. "Or they're beginning to wrestle with the transition from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, and contracting and organizational cost structures that begin to protect they're competitive advantage."

On both sides of the coin, one thing holds true: None of these decisions are optional. The transition to value-based care is here, and here to stay. Even more than that, CMS has set even more ambitious timelines in recent months, aiming to increase the speed with which even larger percentages of patient encounters are done within the rubric of accountable care.

Slowly, providers are starting to realize this.