Ochsner and Intermountain: Access to big data isn't enough

Two leaders from large healthcare systems agreed yesterday at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum in Washington, D.C., that they have the tools in place to harness lots of data. But the challenge, they said, is to better understand it and use what they learn to improve care and outcomes.

Chris Belmont (right), CIO of Ochsner Health System in New Orleans, La., spoke about his company's journey into electronic health records and big data, which he said began shortly after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005.  

"Not every patient was coming back as an Ochsner patient," Belmont said. "Some didn't come back at all. We didn't have a place for legacy data to go."

He said healthcare systems must take a horizontal view when it comes to big data, and not to forget sources--direct input, meta-data, non-structured data, external data, calculated data and master data.

"We have the data points [to be more predictive], we just have to do a better job of getting our hands around the data and understanding it better," Belmont said. Healthcare really is predictive, big data holds the key to those predictions, and evidence-based medicine works, he said.

Currently, Ochsner is working on a project compiling and analyzing data from all of its medical devices. Though Belmont says Ochsner is indeed capturing data, he can't say with confidence how much they're using it effectively in every endeavor.

Belmont's final words for advice on big data: "Stick with it. Beware of shiny objects. Be careful. Break down silos and consolidate resources. Beware of a lack of standards, governance, stewardship." It's important to keep your eyes on the prize, he said.

"At the end of the day, this is what we do: we take care of our patients. Keep that in mind."

Lee Pierce (left), assistant vice president of Business Intelligence and Analytics for Intermountain Healthcare of Utah and Southeast Idaho, spoke on Intermountain's journey into analytics, which began 15 years ago. Its main aim was to support an emerging demand to provide the best care at the lowest appropriate cost.

"Our focus is clinical excellence," Pierce said. "This is why analytics began. Our goal is to deliver the best care to every patient every time, promote clinical research, optimize efficiency and develop and improve systems."

Big data is really just a term for challenging data, he said. It's not about size, it's about analytics, and it has to provide insights for patient care.

Pierce explained how Intermountain used their self-built "data warehouse" system to process care reports and key measures for patients undergoing colon surgery. For the patients enrolled in this process, cost per patient was $12,000, compared to $21,000 for those not enrolled. Pierce cited $1.2 million in annual savings and a decrease in length of stay for patients.

"How? We have the measures and systems in place to see if clinical quality improved or not," Pierce said. "We thought, Let's figure out how to really make it something that's part of the way we do business instead of just a project."