Healthcare analytics applications to the rescue — or not?

healthcare analytics applicationThinking about all of the hi-tech analytics applications being deployed these days for healthcare organizations reminds me of why I recently went to the AT&T store and got myself a new iPhone 6. Even though my old phone was working just fine, I really liked the biometric security, the new camera capabilities, and the adjustability of the font size because my eyesight seems to be feeling my age, even though I’m not! Besides being a gadget guy, who always has to have the newest and best stuff, I also realized how all these new features could dramatically improve my workflow and productivity.

While I usually avoid clichés like the plague, I’m excited to report that my new iPhone 6 has dramatically “moved the needle” for me personally by improving the quality of my life in many tangible and intangible ways! But candidly, as the latest and greatest healthcare information technology is adopted, I’m a bit disappointed there hasn’t been the same level of improvement in areas that healthcare needs to improve in, such as workflow, productivity, waste elimination, and variation reductions.

Healthcare’s stagnation despite new technological advancements

I’ve been in healthcare for almost 30 years and have seen a lot of cool technology solutions like EMRs, devices, decision support tools, and analytics. But these technology advancements alone haven’t dramatically transformed healthcare. In fact, healthcare costs in the United States are rising two to three times faster than the rate of inflation. This trajectory is not sustainable, as we all know.

Honestly, it’s a bit frustrating that quality and costs in healthcare haven’t improved all that much, since I started way back in 1985. At that time, I worked for Transition Systems, Inc. (TSI) in Boston, where we developed the first decision support system for healthcare organizations. The system we designed matched clinical, operational, and cost accounting data to resource utilization and then organized the information into service lines for analysis. With this functionality, users were able to understand variations in care, identify opportunities for improvement, and model and develop best-practice guidelines.

The whole purpose of developing TSI’s decision support system was to address several core problems in healthcare, such as reducing the amount of variation between providers, developing evidence-based protocols and guidelines, improving operational efficiency and effectiveness, enhancing the quality of care, and eliminating waste. At the time, the solution was revolutionary and had a dramatic and positive effect on healthcare delivery. Much to my dismay though, things seem to have stagnated in the past 15 years and momentum seems to have been lost.

Analytics alone can’t lead the transformation effort

The reality is that the same issues we tried to help solve at TSI are still the same issues the healthcare industry struggles with today — getting information into the hands of those that can most directly and effectively drive change. And even though there’s a lot of hype about analytics, none of the insights that analytics can provide really matters unless those who use the information are engaged in their organization’s transformation efforts. These same users also need to have the support of their leadership to design new processes (the specific steps in a process that lead to a particular desired outcome) and interventions (deliberate actions by teams) that affect meaningful, lasting change.

It’s what you do with the data that matters

There is, however, a way for health systems to overcome the previous challenges of getting users to engage with an organization’s transformation efforts. It’s called a “deployment system.”

deployment system is similar to Apple’s approach to offering Genius Bar support to help customers learn how to use their new iPhones, iMac’s, other Apple devices and software, and transform their user experience from an Apple or non-Apple world to their new world. Similarly, with a healthcare deployment system, health systems learn from experienced healthcare experts about how to use the information from their analytics applications to transform from the old world, to the new. It works like this:

  • Like the Apple Genius Bar experience, healthcare experts teach the health system how to organize permanent cross-functional teams of clinicians and technical experts. Then the teams learn how dig into the analytics data themselves to identify opportunities for improvement, make improvement decisions within an area, and then deploy the appropriate interventions that will drive lasting change.
  • Teams take ownership for their own projects in their own space. They’re also accountable for producing and sustaining results, which enables consistent, enterprise-wide deployment of best practices, now and in the future.

Because the deployment system enables health systems to govern, plan, prioritize, and affect change throughout an organization, it’s an essential component for any sustainable transformation effort. For me, I see this deployment system as the link that’s been missing in healthcare transformation efforts.

Turning the “shiny objects” into solutions that can transform healthcare

Even though healthcare still has many of its same issues from the past, the technology has come a long way since I began my career in healthcare IT many years ago. And because of my work with Health Catalyst, I get to see lots of cool new technologies regularly. But to me, they are just “shiny objects.” Why?

Personally, what I’ve realized after spending gobs of money on the latest and greatest gizmos is that what really matters is how the latest and greatest gizmo changes and improves my life. Is the quality of my life better? Does it make me more productive? Am I more effective? Does it make me happier?

The same rule applies to healthcare technology: the better analytics technology alone doesn’t achieve the desired improvements in life, efficiency, effectiveness, or provider and patient satisfaction. However, that all changes, when the technology is combined with a deployment system and the appropriate interventions are put into action.

The deployment system offers a way to put all these great technological advancements to use in a way that enables health systems to really make a positive, lasting difference, just like my iPhone 6 has for me personally. With the right deployment system, health systems can implement a dependable mechanism to affect change throughout their organization in a measurable and sustainable manner. In other words: the deployment system makes it possible for health systems to turn their shiny new object into a value-added healthcare analytics application that powers healthcare transformation.

Have you had any experience with shiny object adoption in healthcare?  I’d love to hear your thoughts…

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