Data analytics vendors were out in force on the exhibit floor of the Healthcare Financial Management Association annual conference last week in Las Vegas.

With accountable care organizations and other value-based reimbursement arrangements coming faster than anticipated, chief financial officers are realizing they need better intelligence on financial, operational and clinical issues across the enterprise. Jared Crapo, a vice president at analytics firm Health Catalyst, says three primary drivers had HFMA attendees visiting booths: a realization that they need an internal data warehouse for reporting, concerns with the transition to value-based payments and the need to drive clinical improvement.

This year’s conference saw a higher urgency on analytics than past years; attendees last year were asking about revenue cycle products and in 2014 are asking about data, adds Bobbie Brown, also a Health Catalyst vice president. Those asking the question also are more knowledgeable than a year ago. There is a realization now that analytics is not a silver bullet, but a long-haul change.

Providers during the meaningful use program learned they can’t just slam in an electronic health records system and have it work, Crapo notes. Many captured only a fraction of the value they thought e-records were going to bring because they didn’t reengineer processes and had to go back and conduct EHR optimization projects. Now, providers are more aware that buying a data warehouse and analytics tools won’t fix anything absent a well thought-out program.

Payers traditionally have had all the data and now providers are getting financial, utilization and population management data of their own and starting to equalize the relationship, according to Crapo. For example, a CFO during contract negotiations can present data to an insurer that shows the hospital is doing a good job keeping diabetics out of the hospital, “so stop squeezing us for another three percent discount.”

CFOs and CEOs soon will start having difficult decisions to make because of what they will learn from analytics, predicts David Janotha, vice president of healthcare at Axiom EMP, a vendor specializing in financial and operational analytics. CFO roles are changing; they have provided financial data to support basic financial analytics for reporting purposes, and now they need to take a more strategic leadership position “looking for outside-the-box solutions rather than building towers,” he predicts.

CFOs need to become more clinically astute, find new avenues for providing care such as clinics in pharmacies, and give physicians data they need on the treatments they gave and the costs. Furthermore, financial realities of value-based care and access to outcomes data will compel CFOs and CEOs to make decisions that up to this point have been politically difficult or impossible, Janotha says. If a community hospital has better outcomes with hip replacement surgery, the flagship hospital should refer hip patients to the smaller facility, he adds. Conversely, community hospitals should not be offering a service that the main hospital does especially well.

CFOs who most understand population health will be the ones to most readily accept a new reality for hospitals in the value-based era, says Jyoti Kamal, president and chief data scientist at analytics vendor Health Care DataWorks. “It’s just not about managing your patients, but keeping them healthy and not wanting them to come to the hospital.”

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