When Adrienne Edens became chief information officer at St. Luke's Health System, a four-hospital organization based in Boise, Idaho, one of her first tasks was the creation of a business intelligence strategy. "We had none," she recalls. "We had a decision support system with patient accounting that produced reactive, retrospective reports." Not only that, the very nature of the organization was changing, as St. Luke's began acquiring physician practices. "It was a whole new business area, and we had very little information about it."

Like many hospitals, St. Luke's has a multitude of EHRs in place, 11 according to Edens' count. These encompass four ambulatory EHRs, two systems for the acute care hospitals, plus a variety of systems used in niche areas, such as the ED or perinatal departments. And with a growing number of employed physicians (300 as of mid-summer), the health system is looking to understand what services the physicians use in such areas as heart and vascular, oncology, and pediatric services.

Rather than compile a massive data warehouse, St. Luke's looked at creating a more limited database and a related extraction tool to analyze one issue-service line utilization and optimization among the group practices. "We need to analyze our volumes, how much of what kind of service we are doing, and patient and physician satisfaction," she says.

To tackle the project, St. Luke's hired a local BI consulting group, WhiteCloud Analytics. Once given the mission, WhiteCloud determined which data sources would be needed and participates in a team that is creating the database. In addition to the hospital EHRs, the database needs to extract data from the practice management systems--all 14 of them--used by the physician groups. Getting vendor cooperation to help pull the data is one of the most difficult challenges, Edens attests.

A feature story in the October issue of Health Data Management will explore the many uses of business intelligence technologies in health care.

--Gary Baldwin


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