How business analytics can improve performance in urgent care

To move beyond basic data reporting, business analytics can unlock actionable insights to achieve operational efficiency and improve patient experience.

Urgent care owners and operators have historically measured both their clinic’s operational and financial performance in comparison to industry-wide benchmarks.

Still, many clinics use basic reporting tools to inform decisions on a macro level regardless of the availability of new tools. As the importance and availability of data continue to increase, improvements in business intelligence technology are enabling owners to drill down into their own clinic’s data to identify a library of pointed and actionable metrics rather than more generalized high-level data.

The ability to access and analyze data metrics by specific parameters such as provider specialty and visit type means urgent care operators are empowered to deeply understand the variables that impact their businesses. With both positive and negative variables presented, data-informed and intentional actions can be taken to fill those gaps and improve clinical performance for optimal operations.

Differentiating reporting and analytics

With reporting, clinics can measure things like how many patients are seen per day and the average revenue generated per day – both foundationally important data points to inform the state of the business and aid in goal-setting.

Further use of these reports is limited, though, and much of the data that isn’t pulled into these foundational metrics goes unused. Individually, they provide lots of numbers at a macro-level; however, understanding the relationships between all these numbers and how they affect each other is much more complicated.

For example, reports can be useful for a high-level overview of data that has been collected within a specific time frame. Operators can run separate reports to find their total door-to-door time for all visits in a given period and total visits in that time frame. They can then take those two separate datasets and divide the door-to-door time by the total visits to get an average door-to-door time. This process can be repeated over and over for single clinic locations, with comparison of this average between clinics also now visible.

This data is good for operators to ensure their clinics are running smoothly and consistently, but it's limited in scope. It only measures two numbers and takes a tedious manual process to get to the key data. What it doesn’t uncover is the why – it’s data that is good to know, but it doesn’t point to what further action needs to be taken.

Most electronic medical record (EMR) software has some level of financial reporting capabilities, but how that data is viewed and acted on to improve processes is where there is still room for improvement and growth. This is where business analytics comes in.

Business analytics is the combination of skills, technologies and practices used to examine an organization’s data and performance to gain insights and make data-driven decisions. The goal of this form of analytics is to narrow down which datasets can inform decisions that aim to increase revenue, productivity and efficiency.

In other words, business analytics makes clinic data meaningful. It provides easily digestible visual layers of data with which urgent care operators can interact, providing the ability to understand individual components that contribute to higher-level clinic outcomes. Reports can provide numbers, but business analytics generates information. By explaining the numbers quickly and visually, operators can not only understand their business better, but they can also gain the insights needed to take meaningful and efficient action for improvement.

Practical benefits

With reporting, there isn’t enough detail provided to see where patients are spending the most time during their visit – for example, how long they are in the waiting room vs. the exam room. There is also no way to see the flow of traffic and the factors contributing to those numbers. The issues could stem anywhere from the front desk, to excessive waiting, longer-than-average exam times or insufficient time in providers’ schedules to view the number of queued patients.

Business analytics can fill these gaps of unknown inefficiencies with automation from data collected across the entire clinic, merging it into one place that provides an easily digestible explanation for patient time management.

Using business analytics, clinics can use interactive dashboards that combine relevant metrics, reduce the time and effort it takes to run numerous reports and can easily identify the relationship between the data points that show where potential bottlenecks occur. They can obtain a complete set of throughput metrics that clearly show exam vs. waiting room time, visit duration vs volume, and door-to-door time by provider.

Drilling into the data to find outliers and trend patterns helps operators identify specific areas that need improvement and then take action. With this information, if operators observe that some locations have longer waiting room times than others, it is likely a volume-driven issue that can be addressed with pre-registration and other tools that help reduce the amount of time needed to get a patient to an exam room. If data shows that certain providers are spending a lot of time with patients, that is a good opportunity to meet with individuals and see if they are struggling with the system, using their tools optimally or need other behind-the-scenes help.

Data is the information needed to make decisions, but business analytics makes it actionable. With the appropriate analytics, operators can uncover both systemic and individual problems, then make a plan of action to improve organizational performance. These analytics also surface the most profitable service lines, most productive people and the bottlenecks that impede a clinic’s efficiency and patient’s experience.

Data utilization is a popular topic in the healthcare industry, and this will only increase as more tools are created to help organizations not only view but act on their individual data to optimize business.

Brooks Pidde is vice president of finance for Experity.

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