Healthcare Dashboards: 3 Keys for Creating Effective and Insightful Executive Dashboards

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Executive Dashboards have become prevalent in today’s healthcare landscape. As the use of data-driven Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) increases, executives are adopting these dashboards to track their organization’s performance. Dashboards deliver insight and identify areas for improvement. However, they fail to make the data actionable. The truth is the value of executive dashboards is often offset by the unproductive fire drills and churn they create.

There are three keys to successfully deploying and reaping the benefits of executive dashboards:

  1. Aggregation of underlying dashboards to create the executive dashboard
  2. Establishment of clear ownership and accountability
  3. Sustainable process

executive dashboard HCAn example of an executive dashboard created from an aggregation of underlying dashboards showing actionable data and clear measurements.

1. Aggregate Underlying Healthcare Dashboards to Create the Executive Dashboard

The first key is the most important to create an effective executive dashboard. To drive performance improvement an executive dashboard must be an aggregation of underlying dashboards. This bottom-up approach delivers an aggregated summary of key metrics from across the organization.

Most organizations approach executive dashboards as a top-down endeavor. A centralized team of analysts’ combs through the data and cobbles together metrics on the KPIs the executive team tracks. The high-level reports produced lack an explanation of the underlying measures or the dashboards supporting them. It divorces the people accountable for improving performance from the measurement process.

Consider this scenario. The Chief Medical Officer sees that length of stay (LOS) has increased for new mothers in Women and Children’s. Seeking more clarification on the outlier she sends an e-mail to the Director of Women and Children’s. Unsure as to how the data was created, the director forwards the message to her team requesting additional detail and explanation. Following several hours of work, and multiple emails, the team locates the report the CMO is referring to, determine how it was created, and produce their own report to refute the data or to provide an explanation for it.

However, the individual who is responsible for the LOS metric has little to no visibility as to how the data the CMO is questioning was gathered and reported. Analytic tools are lacking so digging deeper into the data to pinpoint the cause is a challenge. In an effort to interpret the information the process of forwarding emails begins again. The result is a cobbled together ad hoc response that may or may not represent the true situation. In the end, the answer given provides little meaningful insight as the team creates a single report in response to a single question for a given moment in time.

To avoid the fire drill executive dashboards must be built from underlying departmental dashboards. An effective executive dashboard methodology is one where the departments who are accountable for the metric vet, approve, and even produce the metrics that are aggregated in to the executive version. This eliminates any disconnect between senior leadership and the departments who have the responsibility to drive performance improvement. It also ensures that supporting dashboards exist that enable department leaders to dive into the data, understand their metrics, and how they can best achieve them.

2. Establishment of Clear Ownership and Accountability

The second key to establishing successful executive dashboards is to establish clear ownership and accountability for each tracked measure. In the example shared above, the CMO knew who to reach out to in order to understand the LOS data. In healthcare organizations, however, accountability for performance on various measures is rarely so well defined.

In most organizations, a centralized analyst pulls together all of the data elements and provides the KPI metrics to the executive team. If a particular measure causes concern there is no clear ownership so the question never gets answered and potential insights are never discovered.

This question of ownership goes hand in hand with using underlying dashboards to feed the executive dashboard. Each underlying dashboard has a designated owner and accountability for each measure is well defined. Each dashboard owner responds to executives’ questions and also proactively monitors the data to ensure improved performance on the measure is achieved.

3. Make the Process Sustainable

The third key to a successful executive dashboard is to make the process sustainable. Executive dashboards tend to get more complex over time. Executives become accustomed to seeing a series of measures on a regular basis, and they rarely drop measures from their dashboards. On the contrary, they add them.

As mentioned above, most executive dashboards are maintained by a centralized group of analysts responsible for producing and maintaining them. As the dashboard grows, this centralized process doesn’t scale well and sustainability becomes an issue.

To ensure sustainability the owners of the underlying dashboards are accountable for populating the executive dashboards. This decentralized model ensures the dashboard owner, who understands the data best, is responsible for integrating data into the executive dashboard.

Create a simple framework for the individual dashboard owners to use when consolidating their data into the executive dashboard. And stick to it. For several years, I worked at an academic medical center where we didn’t have a standard framework for presenting measures to the executives. Some of our clinics wanted their data exposed differently than other clinics’ data, and we accommodated that request. The result was that every measure had a different look and feel. We ended up juggling multiple frameworks for representing data to the executive team. The process became a maintenance nightmare.

An effective framework specifies a standard data format to which every underlying application or dashboard must conform. The framework consists of a handful of items that every measure must present—such as unit, month, and clinical area—so the data is represented in a uniform way. For example, an application owner may be analyzing length of stay by subunits on a weekly basis. Reviewing the data at this level of granularity allows the department to look for specific ways to improve the metric. This level of granularity isn’t of interest to leadership. The application owner conforms the data to the framework so it is represented in a manner that is useful and actionable to the executive team.

Executive Dashboards Done Right

Organizations that implement the three keys outlined in this commentary will have effective and insightful executive dashboards. Leadership will gain deeper insight in to overall organizational performance and better empower those accountable to continually drive improvement.


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