It's not the size of your data--it's what you do with it

I've heard a variation on this story at least a dozen times: A hospital gathers data from all corners of the organization, recruits doctors and nurses to supplement it by filling out forms and checking all kinds of little boxes. Then they run reports slicing the data this way and that way and send them to the doctors and nurses--and department heads and board members and whomever else they can think of.

And then nothing happens.

The thing is, just having access to the massive amounts of data that lies in electronic medical records, monitoring and other medical devices, health information exchange warehouses and public and private databases isn't enough. In fact, gathering all that data and using it to run reports isn't enough, either.

The information born from these reports must be actionable. People have to actually look at the reports and then do something about them. And that's where a lot of organizations fall down.

At Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, a plan to use data analytics to improve quality ran into problems from the start. First off, many of the data points it wanted to use had to be collected manually, eating up a lot of staff time. Perhaps worse, once the data was collected, it didn't really point the way toward improvements.  

"Our primary strategic objective is to be the safest hospital we can be for the children we care for at Cincinnati Children's. We cannot reach that objective unless we know the current state of our work and outcomes," says Frederick Ryckman, M.D., professor of surgery and senior vice president for medical operations.

A similar story unfolded at Dean Clinic, a multi-specialty network of clinics in Madison, Wis., which wanted to use data analytics to improve blood pressure control.

"We really struggled as an organization to understand why we could not drive our performance quickly," says Jennifer Close, vice president of operations for Dean's Office of Medical Affairs. "So we used clinical data to start digging under that information to understand patterns of care and variability."

Both organizations did eventually find the sweet spot of collecting data and using it to make improvements. For Children's, the answer was a home-grown software that collects data, freeing up a ton of staff time. For Dean, the key was to put a magnifying glass to those reports and then to give clinicians and staff the tools they need to ensure they're taking those readings correctly.

You can read more about Cincinnati Children's, Dean Clinic, and other organizations that are using data to improve quality, detect fraud and root out waste in FierceHealthPayer's latest eBook. - Gienna (@Gienna)

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