Why Healthcare Decision Support Is No Longer Optional for Chief Operating Officers

During a brief and rare break in her busy schedule, Judy Hayward reflected on how much more challenging her job has become. Growing demands for quality, safety, and cost effectiveness require increasingly complex, interrelated health system strategies with an expanding number of moving parts. As the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Pennington Health, making sure these strategies all work together smoothly is Judy’s primary responsibility.

In any industry, improving performance and accountability requires having a shared goal that unites the interests and activities of all stakeholders. For Pennington Health—a not-for-profit healthcare system comprised of nine acute care hospitals and a multispecialty medical group consisting of over 1,000 physicians—that goal is to deliver high value to its patients through all of its services.

To focus its efforts, Pennington Health adopted the definition of value set forth in the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) Triple Aim—improving the health of its populations while also improving patient experience and lowering the per capita cost of care. As Pennington Health’s leaders took up this mandate, they recognized that they would need to realign their strategies, organizational structures, and management practices to deliver better value to patients and the community.

Healthcare Decision Support Facilitates an Industrywide Shift to a Data-Driven Mindset

Specifically, Pennington’s leaders recognized that the improvements they sought would require a mindset shift. They needed to look at healthcare as a data-driven science rather than a proficiency-based art. They needed to be able to use data-driven insights to deliver outcome improvements, such as less variation, fewer medical errors, greater operational efficiency, and aggressive cost control.

As a key component of its mission to achieve the Triple Aim, Pennington devised a data-driven performance improvement strategy. The health system implemented an advanced analytics infrastructure, including an executive decision support system which Judy and other C-Suite members use daily to manage Pennington’s multifaceted strategies.

Timely, accurate, and reliable data helps ensure Pennington can deliver the best possible care at a lower cost in pursuit of the Triple Aim, while also maintaining a solid bottom line in a mixed-reimbursement-model environment. The healthcare analytics platform provides data to clinicians and operational leaders, enabling them to focus on the right opportunities and realize outcome improvements.

Recently, Judy used the executive decision support system to collaborate with the CFO on a practice expansion decision, and the CMO to deal with hospital operational issues that were impacting protocol compliance. Currently, she is working with the CMO and CIO on a challenge related to nurse productivity.

Healthcare Decision Support Systems Unite C-Suites Around Health System Strategy

As a part of a multifaceted strategy to realize $80 million annually in operational improvements, Judy led a successful effort to improve productivity, which resulted in a 15 percent increase in provider productivity and a 36 percent increase in revenue per clinical FTE, yielding a $25 million enhancement to the bottom line. However, the healthcare dashboard had recently alerted her to rising payroll expenses caused by declining productivity at two of the system’s larger hospitals (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Healthcare decision support system alerts COO to rising payroll expenses

In the hospital environment, declining productivity often indicates problems impacting the nursing staff’s work. Delving into the issue, Judy uncovered IT interoperability challenges impacting nursing workflow, including slow response times, remote access issues, long login times, and reporting systems challenges. These issues were causing significant delays for the nursing staff, resulting in more time spent navigating technical issues that could have been spent treating patients. She is currently collaborating with the CIO to resolve those issues and get productivity performance back on track.

In her COO role, Judy is a highly visible leader. Since the regional hospital CEOs report to her, she plays a critical role in Pennington’s performance outcomes and operational success. This means she must master operational issues, including working closely with clinical leaders to coordinate clinical care with hospital operations. But it also means she must work closely with the VP of Outpatient Services to coordinate inpatient care with outpatient care including clinics, rehab, long-term care, and home health services. She must also work closely with the CMO in managing population health outcomes, and with the CFO to manage financial risk and performance. This inevitably means she plays a major role in the execution of all Pennington’s strategies and her success is critically important to Pennington Health’s CEO.

Like her other C-Suite team members, Judy must evolve from a solely vertical approach to her work, to an equally important focus on horizontal teams that collaborate across departmental, professional, and organizational lines. Judy knows that to be a good COO, she must understand matrix reporting and how local care delivery needs interrelate with the goals of an increasingly complex health system. To be successful, she must be nimble in her decision making and know how to work within a complex system to achieve objectives. There is little room for unwise decisions.

No Longer Optional: Why Healthcare Decision Support is an Industry Imperative

To provide wise leadership in such a transformative environment, access to a next generation executive decision support system is imperative. Judy could not accomplish this without access to Pennington’s executive decision support system, which she uses every day.

The executive decision support system facilitates Judy’s ability to make rapid and meaningful decisions. It aggregates reliable, up-to-date information from all available sources, and makes it very easy for her to access. Using this system, she can more easily break information down and view it in more user-configurable, user-friendly ways—often in the form of graphs that make important conclusions or trends more recognizable and understandable. This supports Judy’s ability to make sense of and act on information.

The executive decision support system enhances her ability to drill down into the data in search of problems’ root causes. In addition, it plays an important communication and collaboration role, helping Judy work with other C-Suite members and leaders throughout the organization to problem solve and unite around a common vision and strategy.

Today’s healthcare leaders must be data-driven and skilled problem solvers, strategic and analytical thinkers, and collaborative leaders who understand the clinical, financial, and operational sides of healthcare. As healthcare evolves and becomes increasingly complex, modern, advanced healthcare decision support is vital for any organization’s success. It is an integral part of leadership and decision making. It can help C-Suite leaders and intellectual assets throughout the organization more effectively manage information, and collaboratively make good decisions that are critical to organizational success and long-term viability.

Additional Reading

Would you like to learn more about this topic? Here are some articles we suggest:

  1. Healthcare Decision Support Helps CFOs Achieve Their Top Goal: Timely, Accurate, Agile Decision Making
  2. Why CMOs Need Healthcare Executive Dashboards to Lead High-Performing Systems
  3. Why the Executive Dashboard Is a Healthcare CEO’s Best Advisor
  4. Leading Wisely in Healthcare: Why the Next Generation Executive Decision Support System is an Industrywide Imperative
  5. Leading Wisely: Better Executive Decision Support
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