Data Analytics for the Little Guy

Community and smaller nonprofit hospital systems are feeling the ever-tightening squeeze of lower operating margins. The trends in costs and reimbursement in the healthcare industry continue to increase the difficulty for these entities to deliver high quality, low-cost care to their patient populations. Up to this point, it has been difficult for smaller healthcare entities to leverage data analytics solutions to identify areas of value within their organization and address inefficiencies.

With the advent of powerful business intelligence (BI) platforms—such as Microsoft’s Power BI service, Qlik Sense, or Tableau— there are finally solutions in the market that smaller healthcare entities can use to perform deeper analyses of EHR, claims, and other data. The foray into data analytics for smaller organizations can seem daunting, but outlining a clear vision and key steps can help smaller systems build a robust data analytics program.

Set a Vision

Key stakeholders should be interviewed to determine where in the organization analytics could have the biggest impact and what obstacles would need to be addressed.

Establish a Strong Foundation

In order for a data analytics program to be successful, stakeholders must see the value the program adds to the organization’s overall mission. To this aim, entities should pursue building a data analytics program built on:

Flexible tools and software;
Standardized project and reporting processes; and
Knowledgeable and engaged personnel

These are the three key ingredients to building a successful data analytics program. Flexible analytics software and applications give organizations an opportunity to harness all of their data, and defining standardized projects and processes will help the organization gain efficiency and build a durable organizational knowledge base. Identifying internal employees and outside partners with the skills and desire to perform data analytics projects will help the organization build a deep bench of individuals who can collaborate on projects to drive value. Having this solid foundation of tools, processes, and expertise, along with clear goals, will allow your data analytics team to make smaller decisions and approach challenges that will undoubtedly come up with confidence.

“With the advent of powerful business intelligence platforms, there are finally solutions that smaller healthcare entities can use to perform deeper analyses of EHR, claims and other data.”— Jay Swacker

Take Small Steps

Rome wasn’t built in a day—the same is true for building data analytics capabilities. It is important for organizations to understand their personnel’s capacity to learn and deploy BI systems. Who has the interest and skills to successfully see a BI project to completion? Are they internal to the organization or should outside consultants be engaged? Where is data readily available? Will mining and analyzing this data provide useful insight to leaders and decision-makers?

Identifying “low hanging fruit,” which quickly yields useful information to key clinical and other decision-makers, can help an organization establish and build a data analytics program that is embraced by all stakeholders. Once others in the organization have seen this value, they will be more willing to work with the data analytics team and invest in its success.

Think Outside the Box

One of the biggest advantages of various BI platforms is their ability to integrate disparate data sources and display compelling visualizations. These tools allow users to see data and relationships in ways that were previously very difficult or time-consuming to achieve. Ask end users what questions they would like answered or have them sketch out how they would like a report, dashboard, or graphic to look and then see if you can create it.

Thanks to developments in widely available BI software, the rewards of data analytics capabilities are now within the grasp of every healthcare organization. With the right partners and approach, any healthcare entity can obtain meaningful insight about their operations and competitive environment and make more informed strategic decisions.

Jay Swacker, CPA, CIA, CHC, CHFP, Senior Healthcare Consultant at Dean Dorton. He can be reached at (859) 425-7691 and jswacker@ddafhealthcare.com.