How Healthcare Visualizations Can Improve Organizational Buy-In

Healthcare visualizations are similar to today’s popular infographics except the data they show is specific to healthcare. With their easy-to-understand graphical representation of complex data, healthcare visualizations can be used by anyone involved in healthcare improvements. In specific, their format can be used as a spark to help the leaders of health systems move from a passive understanding of the data to active support of data-driven quality improvement recommendations. But simply showing the visualizations won’t be enough. Instead, those who are using the healthcare visualizations need to be taught, shown, and involved to fully understand their value. Edward O. Wilson, the father of social biology, sums up the 3-tiered learning process best in this quote:

“You teach me, I forget.
You show me, I remember.
You involve me, I understand.”

We use this three-tiered approach to help health systems gain better buy-in for their data-driven quality improvement recommendations:  first we form teams and teach how to overcome organizational barriers, then we show healthcare visualizations to better understand the data, and then we involve the teams and answer their questions. It works like this.

Teach: Use Group Settings to Build the Foundation for Engaged, Cross-functional Healthcare Teams

First, you’ll need buy-in from key leaders who have a strong desire to make changes and are willing to put in the time and energy to see the changes take place. Support these key leaders by helping them form a dedicated improvement team with others who share their vision and energy.

Once the teams are in place, teach the teams how to break down existing organizational barriers by encouraging them to explain their job responsibilities to each other. This encourages a greater understanding of how their organization functions, which can lead to the dissolution of the boundaries that typically limit the sharing of knowledge between the departments.

Learning more about everyone’s roles and responsibilities is also enlightening for the team as they learn why other departments do things the way they do. For example, items in a checklist may appear nonsensical to the casual observer. But the department using them understands how critical the items in the checklist are because they’ve been able to reduce the negative outcomes for their patients by using their specific checklist. Insights like this one help everyone gain a deeper appreciation for each other’s roles, experience, and procedures.

Show: Share Healthcare Visualizations with Clinicians and Healthcare Administrators and Have Them Share Processes

Once the team has a better understanding of everyone’s roles, it’s time for the technical experts to share a few healthcare visualizations with everyone. Sharing the visualizations is important because the data starts to come to life for the team members, especially those who regularly have a need for these types of requests, such as administrators or clinicians. For the first time, they’re able to view the results of their requests in an easy-to-understand format.

Without these visualizations, it’s more difficult and time consuming for those who request the reports to understand the interdependencies of the data. For example, if a clinician asks a data analyst to pull a report after a patient has an assessment, the data on the monitor will show the results of many spreadsheets linked together along with many fields and tables of data linked to even more spreadsheets. While it’s possible to pull this information, it’s time-consuming for the data analyst to link the tables to provide the correct information, plus the clinician needs to take the time to make sense of the data and understand its structure. A healthcare visualization, however, provides insights in an easily understandable format.

In addition to gaining appreciation and insight from the visualizations, members of the team benefit by sharing their clinical processes with each other, in both discussions and in reciprocal visits to their departments to better understand the origin of the data. For example, a Braden scale is a subjective scoring tool used to predict a patient’s risk for getting a pressure ulcer. A lower score on the scale indicates a higher risk. We have seen an instance where a bariatric nursing unit had low pressure ulcers rates for a very high-risk patient population, but another unit with healthier patients had a higher rate of hospital-acquired pressure ulcers. On the surface, the data didn’t make sense, appearing to show a puzzling, negative correlation between patient risk and pressure ulcers. Without further investigation, the health system could have started a length quality improvement effort.

A visit to the units, however, provided the necessary insight to uncover the discrepancy: the unit with healthier patients but higher rates of pressure ulcers was giving their patients aggressive Braden scores. With an improved comprehension of the problem, the only improvement effort needed was a re-education and re-calibration of the scoring process, a much simpler process with quicker results.

Data can guide, and it can predict, but data alone does not provide the only answer. Once a team sees how important it is to learn more about how the data relates to the clinical area and offers so many opportunities for improvement, they will show sparks of interest and engagement and begin asking “what if” questions about other scenarios.

Deliveries by C-section

A scenario analysis visualization tool like this allows the user to filter C-section rates according to different dilation values — from 1 to 10 — to see how the C-section rate change for different dilation values.

Involve: Answer the Team’s Questions

As the team starts asking questions, more questions will flow. At this stage, the team is completely engaged, working together, and interested in learning more about how the visualizations will help them solve their problems.

visualization community care

This healthcare visualization is an example of how metrics can represent a health system’s operations in a graphical format that’s easy to understand.

Achieving great results is now possible. By bringing the teams together to teach, show, and involve in the process of driving organizational change, you can expect to see the following organizational changes start to occur:

  • Patient-centered decisions made by clinical and administrative teams due to visualizations and open discussion about departmental processes.
  • Relationships between key leaders within the organization that may not have happened without this process.
  • Synergy and energy from this team and future teams to continue to come up with improvements.

North Memorial provides a good example of how visualizations help teams design improvements and encourage organizational changes. First, the health system deployed a healthcare enterprise data warehouse (EDW) to drive a significant reduction in its rate of unnecessary pre-term deliveries. Because of their success with this project, they chose to apply the lessons learned to other care processes across the care continuum, in specific, population health management.

Next, North Memorial implemented a Population Analytics Advanced Application on top of their EDW foundation. Even with this powerful analytics application, they knew they also needed to encourage cultural and organizational change to ensure a continuation of their success. So, they established a community care clinic multidisciplinary team approach. This permanent, integrated team included:

  • Analysts
  • Billing and coding experts
  • IT experts
  • Finance experts
  • Physicians and providers
  • RN patient care coordinators
  • Frontline care coordinators
  • Patient navigators

Working together to optimize the role of each participant on the team — and to integrate insight from the visualizations into the workflow — the team experienced success in a very short time. Their results included:

  • Composite and individual views of measures for both populations and individual patients. This enabled the clinicians and staff to identify any gaps in care and made it possible to efficiently manage the focus of the patient’s visit.
  • Integrated clinical, operational, and regulatory information about patients located in one place.
  • Self-service analytics enabled through filters and tabs. The team particularly benefitted from being able to filter down to a specific regulatory population. This functionality enabled the team to view either the entire diabetes population or to filter down to look only at the state-defined cohort.

Empower Your Teams

Get started with something — anything — and then grow it from there by teaching, showing, and involving your teams. Will the first solution be perfect? No. Will it make a difference for every patient, practitioner, and participant? Absolutely! In the long run, these healthcare visualizations will help health systems transform by enabling their staff to transform their decision-making, practices, and procedures to improve healthcare.

Do you recall a moment in time when a powerful healthcare visualization brought many data points to life for you? Do you agree or disagree that healthcare visualizations make it easier to understand data?

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