In a new pharmacy initiative, Sutter Health reimagines its approach to real-time analytics

Sutter Health Building
A new analytics initiative at Sutter Health emphasizes operational changes to reduce pharmaceutical costs.

When executives at Sutter Health were searching for ways to integrate artificial intelligence into their system, they were less concerned with the technical specs and more interested in how analytic capabilities can drive improvement.

That’s what led them to invest in a new platform that went beyond algorithms and software to emphasize the data’s tangible impact on clinician workflow and hospital operations.

Sameer Badlani, M.D. 

“It was a refreshing break from other vendors that were coming across my desk,” Sutter Health Vice President and Chief Health Information Officer Sameer Badlani, M.D., told FierceHealthcare after the system announced a new partnership with Qventus earlier this month.

Although Sutter Health has worked with the company on several other initiatives targeting patient throughput, the pharmacy pilot is the system’s first significant foray into leveraging real-time or near-real-time analytics to influence care decisions. Beyond the machine learning platform, Sutter was drawn to the workflow specialists dispatched by the company to follow pharmacy care teams in order to better understand the ideal format to deliver data-driven insights.

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“I spend half my time as a data analytics officer talking to people about once you have this group of analytics, what is it that you’ll change in your daily workflow that will achieve the desired outcome?” he added.

With the pharmacy initiative, the California-based health system is targeting improvements in both cost and quality. Executives chose to focus on the pharmacy specifically because of the opportunity to generate a significant return-on-investment simply by controlling rising drug costs.   

Injectable Tylenol is one specific drug the system is targeting due to its high price point compared to the oral version. Simply transitioning patients to a pill form earlier could generate a significant return.

Ryan Stice

“You essentially have the exact same medication you give orally for pennies a tablet and you're using it in IV form,” said Ryan Stice, the executive pharmacy director at Sutter Health. “We can use analytics to identify those patients that can be rapidly transitioned to the oral form of medication.”

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Cost isn’t the only consideration. Prioritizing education for patients at the highest risk for medication-related readmissions can improve care coordination and effectively utilize clinical pharmacists, an underutilized resource in most hospitals, according to Stice.

Perhaps more importantly, Badlani said he hopes the success of the initiative reshapes the system's broader approach to technology to emphasize workflow and operational efficiencies.

“I hope this will start a new way of thinking about leveraging analytics and informatics at Sutter Health,” he said.