Healthcare organizations are under increasing pressure to deliver results. Mergers, regulatory mandates to digitize records and tie Medicare payments to outcomes, and incentives from insurers to treat more patients faster, compel healthcare providers to pay more attention to their operational side.

The shift to a focus on outcomes from the traditional fee-for-service model is forcing providers to look at aspects of the business they traditionally didn’t have to consider. For instance, patient satisfaction now matters, as people easily can go online to rate their experience with a particular doctor, clinic or hospital. A recent poll found healthcare organizations that prioritize the “consumer experience” are 60 percent more profitable.

Healthcare is under pressure to become more like retail – sell as much as possible and avoid returns. In healthcare, “avoiding returns” means improving the quality of care, something that must be accomplished while also trying to improve efficiency at lower costs.

How will this happen? The answer is data. With the implementation of electronic health records (EHRs), providers collect massive amounts of data about their patients. While data can help providers meet the challenge of treating more patients at lower costs without sacrificing quality, they don’t necessarily know how or where to start. They need help from business intelligence and analytics solutions that pinpoint useful bits of data and organize them into visual representations in compelling, creative ways.

Data Everywhere

For healthcare professionals, sifting through spreadsheets brimming with numbers will only get them so far. Spreadsheets are good for showing profits and losses, but they don’t necessarily tell how to treat more patients with the same number of physicians or eliminate redundant tests. That’s best achieved with business intelligence and data analytics applications that have intuitive visual dashboards and easy-to-use tools that let users build infographics and heat maps that highlight connections between tidbits of data from different sources – information that otherwise might be overlooked.

Relationships between data can help unlock secrets that can lead to the next profitable service or operational improvement. Put these insights together in an easily digestible visual format, get it in the hands of the people that need it, and you start to turn a problem – unorganized, unused data – into a useful asset.

But deciding what tools are needed, and how to best use them, can be daunting. However, a managed service provider (MSP) specializing in BI and data analytics can help organizations identify their data needs and acquire the right tools to organize and analyze the information. An MSP can guide an organization through the five main steps to start better leveraging data.

1. Audit the Sources

The first step is to identify data sources. In healthcare, that means looking in EHR systems, registration logs, billing applications, websites and insurance records. It’s hard to know what to look for in the data if an organization hasn’t identified the points where it flows in and where it lands – patient registration systems, billing applications, databases, spreadsheets, assorted files and backup drives.

Data collected by healthcare providers contains a wealth of information – such as trends and patterns with clues on boosting market share; how to optimize appointment schedules to fit in more patients; if doctors are chronically late; and, how long patients wait to be seen. It also reveals which patients don’t make preventive care appointments that facilitate early diagnoses and head off serious health problems.

Data helps identify wasteful and redundant practices, such as too-frequent blood tests or duplicate X-rays. Organizations that learn to collect and analyze these insights can save money, improve operations, and – ultimately – make patients happier.

2. Audit the Tools

Once an organization inventories its data sources, it needs tools to sort out the data. Most organizations have databases, spreadsheet applications and report-creation tools, but they’re lucky if those systems are linked together in a cohesive, productive way. Even if they are, chances are the organizations lack the advanced BI and analytics tools that deliver insights and help them think outside the box.

Without data mining and analytics capabilities, organizations are limited in what they can accomplish. With BI and data analytics, organizations are better equipped to achieve serious productivity gains in analytical efforts.

3. Identify the Gaps

Most organizations do not employ advanced analytics solutions in decision-making. Certainly, it isn’t for a lack of available tools, and an organization needs to find those that best suit its needs.

Tools such as Tableau (which creates visual representations of data) and click analytics (a method of measuring and analyzing website clicks) provide easy, intuitive ways to organize data into infographics, charts and heat maps. Visual representations of statistics with bar graphs, geometric shapes, images and colors can highlight patterns and trends.

Heat maps put demographics and regional patterns in perspective. For instance, different shades and colors can be used to identify how many patients come from which town or neighborhood. These tools help identify patient groups, compile satisfaction scores and calculate the number of patients seen by each doctor.

4. Address Distribution Issues

Traditionally, BI and analytics systems were complex and meant for IT professionals, but the new generation of solutions is accessible to users in different departments within an organization. Non-technical users can do their own analyses, without waiting days or weeks for a report from IT. If they can plug information into a dashboard and give it instructions with a few clicks, they can create an infographic and heat map in minutes.

This means the people who need the information to make decisions – whether they are lab assistants, pharmacists, administrators or nurses –can get it much quicker. Visual representations of the data make it easy to understand without IT having to explain what users are seeing. This decentralization of data gets information to the people that need it faster, and fosters smart, creative decision-making.

5. Get Help

Organizations that lack expertise in BI and analytics can get help with in-depth data analysis by engaging an MSP that works collaboratively to collect, organize and disseminate the data to the users who need it. An increasing number of organizations are moving in that direction, as MSPs beef up their expertise in BI and data analytics. For healthcare organizations trying to successfully ride the transformation of their business to an outcome-driven focus, teaming with an MSP is a great start.

Ryan Jaeger is BI Developer at NxtTeam, a managed service provider specializing in business intelligence for small to mid-size businesses.

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