The Next Big Wave: Data Warehouse (Healthcare IT News)

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[Written by Bernie Monegain]

While compared with other industries – financial, retail, manufacturing, for example – healthcare has been slow to recognize the value that data and analytics could have on both the clinical and the business sides of the house – the hospital and integrated delivery network, or the physician practice.

Perhaps that’s why a small, 6-year-old company, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is growing by leaps (80 new employees in 2013) and landing contracts for its healthcare data warehouse, reeling in the big fish – and smaller ones, too. Some of the most recent organizations to sign on were Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, Partners HealthCare in Boston and Memorial Hospital of Gulfport in Mississippi.

The timing makes sense to Dan Burton, CEO of Health Catalyst, which has its roots at Intermountain Healthcare, and which today is inundated with requests for its data warehouse offering, cum analytics with an array of applications from which to select, and hundreds more in the making.

This newfound interest in housing data and using it to improve care quality and wring out waste came about with the broader uptake of electronic health record systems across the country.

With paper records, there was no need for a data warehouse. “You need file folders,” Burton said. “You don’t need an electronic data warehouse.” But, all that is changing rapidly.

“Healthcare IT’s potential value is changing in profound ways,” Gartner analysts Vi Shaffer and Mark A. Beyer wrote in a Feb. 10 report. “While the big value boost started with electronic health records, efforts must be heavily directed to advancing the state of retrospective and real-time analytics. Superior use of analytics will be a dominant factor in health system success for the rest of this decade, and it is a growing component of the CIO work.”

Burton could not agree more.

“Think about the external environment,” he said. “Medicare cuts, Medicaid cuts, risk-sharing models, fee-for-service to fee-for-value. All of that requires a health system to get good at its cost structure. You can’t manage the cost structure if you don’t have the data about what’s actually going on. You can’t do that without a data warehouse. You can’t do it systematically. You can do sort of one-off projects here and there, but most health systems I’m talking with are looking for 10 to 30 percent cost structure reduction. They want to bend the cost curve.”

Once EHR adoption began to take hold – spurred by the government’s meaningful use initiative – the calls started coming in at Health Catalyst, and they have grown tenfold year over year, Burton said. Web traffic and requests for proposals have grown at the same rate, all the more telling, Burton said, because an RFP indicates that the organization has gone through a formal process. “They’ve identified that ‘we need this.’ ”

“The pressure is mounting,” wrote Joe Van De Graaff, in a report from Orem, Utah-based research firm KLAS last January. “Providers see analytics as a strategic compass for the changing healthcare world ahead, and their need for better results and better ways to understand outcomes through data analytics and BI is critical.”

Health Catalyst was the sole company with enough data warehouse clients to warrant a KLAS grade. It received 90 out of a possible 100. The others – big names all – could not be rated for lack of implementations that are live in the healthcare sector. They included Deloitte (Recombinant), Explorys, Healthcare Data Works, IBM, Information Builders, Microsoft, Oracle, Premier, SAP (Sybase), and Teradata.

“In terms of implementation, we were able to give KLAS a pretty long list of successful implementations,” Burton said. “Part of our benefit to customers is we move so fast. Instead of a data-warehousing project taking two years, it takes two months.”

In the KLAS report, VanDe Graaff gave Health Catalyst kudos for its “fresh and palatable approach to healthcare EDW that challenges traditional thinking and long projects.”

Burton is proud of Health Catalyst’s nimbleness.

Pointing to a rollout at Wisconsin Children’s Hospital in Q4 last year, he said: “The team landed at 9, and by 11 most of the elements of the data warehouse platform were up and running, and data was flowing into the data warehouse. It’s breathtaking. That’s not the end, there was more work to be done, but that used to take us two months.

“It took us two months at Stanford – the same equivalent amount of work – to get data started flowing in the data warehouse, and we can do it in two hours now.”

Still, Burton does not discount competitors. If you look at their success in other industries, both IBM and Oracle have multi-billion dollar businesses that support financial services and retail. So they have a lot of experience in data warehousing.

Deloitte, too, has positioned itself for an analytics role in the healthcare sector, with the launch last February of ConvergeHEALTH, a new business unit, and company is investing between $150 million to $200 million in life sciences and healthcare analytics.

“Healthcare systems are facing multiple pressures now that really make analytics and in particular the secondary use of healthcare information really move from a nice-to-have to really, truly an imperative for survival in the coming years,” Brett Davis, Deloitte consulting principal and general manager of ConvergeHEALTH told Healthcare IT News in a Feb. 19 interview.

Healthcare organizations soon will be able to answer what Davis calls the “hard questions”: What works for whom, why, in what context and at what cost.

“The challenge in healthcare,” Burton said, “is the complexity of managing a living organism with the ever-changing nature of the data, the changing nature of the science. It requires an architecture that’s much more flexible than that traditional enterprise data model really allows for. I think that’s why we’ve had a lot of success.”

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