UnityPoint Health, a 23-hospital delivery system serving parts of Iowa, Illinois and Wisconsin, started its data analytics journey two years ago. Since then, they have learned four major guiding principles that seem simple but drive analytics today.

Rhiannon Harms, executive director of strategic improvement and planning, walked through the principles during a presentation this week at Health Data Management’s Healthcare Analytics Symposium in Chicago.

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The four guiding principles include:

Align Analytics with the Organization Mission and Strategy

UnityPoint’s mission is to improve the health status of the communities it serves so that must be the focal point for analytics. Consequently, analytics leaders do not report to the IT leader, but to the chief strategy officer. And they focus on quality insights while letting others worry about growth. “It’s not about being bigger, it’s about being better,” Harms says. That means making sure that 80 percent of analysts’ time is spent on work directly aligned to the mission and strategy, so leaders often have to say “no” to requests for other types of analysis and better develop a thick skin.

Think Differently

Data analysts aren’t just analysts anymore, they are moving into a more consulting role to serve clinicians and managers. Analysts will ask what problems stakeholders want solved, present options, and then work to recognize and interpret what the data is saying, not necessarily what others may want to hear. At times, a perfect answer isn’t what is needed or even achievable, and that’s okay, Harms said. “Sometimes, ‘good enough’ gets us where we need to be, we just need to be ‘directionally correct’ to take an action step.”

Build a Dream Team

This means putting together a cohesive team, which will take trial and error, with different skills and passions well represented. It is especially important, Harms said, to have people who know what works in real life on the treatment floors.

Optimize Your Tool Set

You’ll never have all the analytics tools you want, or maybe even need, Harms said. But you have existing tools that overlap, so reducing the overlap gives you the ability to get some new tools.

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