Starting digital transformation? Focus on the cultural changes

How two of today’s biggest health IT trends are driving cultural changes: Big Data and new care delivery models.
By Bill Siwicki
09:03 AM
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Dr. Ferdinand Velasco

Ferdinand Velasco cautions against losing sight of the main objective by getting bogged down with complex statistical methods and fancy graphs.

With the implementation of electronic health records and other healthcare information systems, there has been explosive growth in the amount of data captured by provider organizations.

Just as these provider organizations must prudently manage their talent pools, financial resources and medical assets to fully extract value from data, the organizations must manage data as a strategic asset, said Dr. Ferdinand Velasco, senior vice president and chief health information officer at Texas Health Resources, a faith-based health system based in Arlington that was awarded the HIMSS Enterprise Davies Award for Excellence in 2013 and has achieved Stage 7 on the HIMSS EMR Adoption Model.

"This involves implementing sound enterprise data management, advancing data analytics maturity and promoting a data-driven culture," said Velasco. "While much of the clinical informatics and business intelligence domains have focused on the technical aspects of data management and analytics, we feel that there hasn't been enough focus on the cultural changes associated with digital business transformation."

The importance of the cultural changes associated with digital business transformation has to do with two industry trends, according to Velasco: the emergence of Big Data in healthcare and the transformation of the healthcare delivery model.

"While both topics have received considerable coverage in the media, they're not usually discussed in tandem, as two trends that complement each other," he explained. "Consider what has been occurring in other industries such as retail, entertainment and transportation. In each of these, Big Data has been exploited by new entrants to disrupt the ecosystem and displace legacy firms that previously dominated the marketplace."

Companies such as Amazon and Uber that didn't even exist until the digital age are now formidable players. An advantage these "digital natives" have over established firms is that they're equipped, both technically and culturally, to effectively harness data in near real time, transforming it into actionable insights, and to make agile, data-driven decisions. In contrast, analog companies are characterized by decision making that tends to be laborious and informed by incomplete or old data, Dr. Velasco contended.

"The same phenomenon is happening in healthcare," he said. "We are seeing new entrants as well as established healthcare organizations that are seeking to reinvent themselves into nimble, data-driven organizations. As with other industries, healthcare also has experienced a massive growth in data, not just from clinical workflows and financial transactions but from the consumer side, as well."

In addition to the data captured from EHRs and billing systems, healthcare organizations need to cope with data from technologies such as genetic testing and wearable devices. Through efforts to improve population health, there is a greater appreciation for social determinants of health such as housing, transportation and physical activity. These also represent novel data subject areas for healthcare organizations.

"Layered on top of the Big Data phenomenon is the relentless push toward healthcare reform, driven by employers and payers," said Velasco. "In addition to the usual competition between providers, these organizations are under intense pressure to bend the cost curve. Successfully exploiting data as an asset isn't just going to provide these systems with a competitive advantage, it will be essential for survival."

The first step in promoting a data-driven culture is to promote data literacy, said Velasco.

"This may seem rather basic, but the reality is that many healthcare people have catching up to do in terms of getting educated on some fundamental principles of data management and analytics," he explained. "It's important that they take the time to understand the environment, that is, the source systems and workflows for data capture."

This is essential to developing an appreciation of the strengths and limitations of the data being analyzed, he added. They need to be savvy about performance measurement and which analytical methods to use for which applications – successful organizations invest in providing their workforce the education necessary to develop this literacy, he said.

"The second point I would make is that data-literate healthcare professionals are genuinely curious about the data," he said. "They don't just passively consume information presented to them. They actively question the reliability of data, challenge the conclusions being advanced, and discern what are the significant insights to be gleaned from the analysis."

This ties in to the importance of effective communication.

"Unfortunately, there is sometimes a tendency to get bogged down with complex statistical methods and fancy graphs, which risks losing sight of the main objective," said. Velasco. "Data-driven businesses are adept at telling stories using data and not letting the data get in the way of the message."

Finally, leveraging data as an asset means being action-oriented, he explained. This means focusing on data analytics that matter, that drive decision-making and enable process improvement, he said.

"This requires alignment with the organization's strategic priorities and key initiatives," he said. "You know you've been successful when the CEO quotes a data point or cites a trend in explaining the rationale behind a major decision for the company."

"CIOs have a key role in promoting a data-driven culture," said Velasco. "Just as they've been essential in influencing physicians and clinical staff to adopt electronic health records and other digital tools, CIOs and their teams will be pivotal in leading the cultural transformation of the workforce needed to embrace data as a strategic asset. A logical place to start is within their own IT department."

Velasco will share more insights at HIMSS19 in a session titled, "Data As an Asset: A Pragmatic Framework for Health Analytics." It's scheduled for Thursday, February 14, from 4-5 p.m. in room W308A.

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Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com