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Can healthcare big data reality live up to its promise?

Brian Eastwood | Aug. 16, 2013
If any industry's ready to reap the benefits of analyzing reams of data from disparate sources, it's healthcare. But just because there's a will doesn't necessarily mean there's an easy way.

Most opt to focus on BI as it pertains to regulatory reporting needs. This makes sense, as hospitals must file upwards of 1,000 reports to government agencies annually. With such an apparent need, though, Madsen says it's often difficult for organizations to take the next step and see how the data in those reports can be used to promote operational efficiency or other institutional improvements.

Luckily, the iHT2 report offers several suggestions. Assessing a patient population's health needs, for example, can help organizations develop appropriate methods of service delivery while also identifying individual care gaps and even predicting which patients are likely to become seriously ill. In addition, evaluating provider performance can help drive quality improvement programs and also pinpoint reasons for variations in care.

It's also worth noting what will not work. Under the Medicare Shared Savings Plan as well as the ACO model, the aim is to generate savings that ultimately lead to lower healthcare costs, so revenue cycle management tools won't work, according to iHT2. In addition, today's cost accounting systems are ill-equipped to measure the total cost of care, which needs to consider that an early hospital discharge saves money for one facility (the hospital) but represents a missed revenue opportunity for another (the long-term care facility). Finding the total cost of care, iHT2 says, requires a "sophisticated, episode-based accounting system for bundled payments."

Healthcare taking data analytics 'wins' wherever it finds them
Not all analytics systems in healthcare need to be sophisticated. At Springhill Memorial Hospital in Mobile, Ala., a recent automated medication dispensing cabinet system update came with Pandora Clinicals, an analytics package that has helped the facility reduce narcotics diversions.

The software, from Omnicell, tracks who removes narcotics from the medicine cabinet and when. Monthly reports help hospital management pinpoint outliers who dispense more medication than others. At worst, Clinical Pharmacist Joe Adkins says, this may mean a staff member is diverting the narcotics for sale or personal use-though it can also mean that a nurse or clinician has been proactive in treating a patient's pain. The software doesn't prove association, he says, but it's the first lead and often helps staff spot discrepancies before they otherwise would.

Critically, getting data from Pandora Clinicals has little effect on overall workflow, Adkins adds. Reports are automatically emailed and use bar graphs as opposed to lengthy written records. In short, little data manipulation or math is necessary: "It's a nice way to keep an eye on what's going on without having to think about it."

For payers, meanwhile, the aim is to improve the customers experience in a way that patients don't have to think about it, says Bob Dutcher, vice president of marketing for predictive analytics firm InsightsOne.


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