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Why healthcare executives should embrace comparative analytics

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When people talk about the success of Jeopardy! champion James Holzhauer, they don’t just talk about how many games he’s won or even how much money he’s won. They talk about his winnings in comparison to the players and champions who came before him.

This approach gives context to his success and makes it easier to understand the magnitude of his accomplishments. What’s newsworthy is he isn’t just better than everyone he’s faced so far. The numbers say he’s better than anyone who has ever played the game—and he has set a new standard by which to measure everyone who comes after him (presuming he finally loses or just stops playing).

This sort of big-picture benchmarking is critical not only to understanding high performers, but also to creating and sustaining high-performing organizations. Understanding how your health system is doing financially compared with others like it offers far greater insights on how to get to the next level than relying solely on internal metrics. It also helps you know what the next level is.

That’s why it is surprising to learn that the majority of senior executives in healthcare have doubts about the value and comparability of both internal and external data. In fact, a new survey-based report confirms that 15 percent do not use financial benchmarks at all, and 43 percent are not satisfied with how their benchmarks inform decision making enterprise-wide.

Much of this aversion to financial benchmarking comes from a lack of trust in the data itself. That’s understandable. Executives know their organization’s data is coming from multiple sources, and that sometimes the data from one source conflicts with that of another. They often have no idea how the data used for external benchmarks is gathered, making it even more questionable. It would be like James Holzhauer preparing for the next round of Jeopardy! by relying solely on Wikipedia.

To get past these objections and be able to measure key performance indicators (KPIs) over time, healthcare executives need a data platform with certain key attributes.

  • One trusted source. There must be a single-source data platform for comparative analytics that aggregates and integrates external and internal data used across the continuum of delivery (hospitals, physicians, senior care…) for planning, cost and decision support, management analytics, and clinical transformation.
  • Current. Executives and managers often struggle with comparative data that is months or even years out of date. Even worse, data from different sources may come from different time periods. Real-time data changes the way in which executives and managers use the information. Such data supports real-time diagnosis and decision making as individuals monitor the progress and impact of ongoing initiatives and performance.
  • Structured and clean. Once the data has been obtained, it must be accurately classified and standardized. Through application of a common taxonomy, a comparative analytics platform can pull in monthly data from internal and external sources, “scrub” them for regulatory compliance, and normalize and classify using advanced statistical techniques and machine learning. The result is reliable data that can be trusted for apples-to-apples comparisons.
  • Appropriate and accessible. The data individuals have access to will depend on their roles in the organization, but the comparative analytics platform must make the right data available to the right people at the right time. Financial, managerial and operational team members at all levels of the organization must be able to easily obtain the data and drill down into their reports for information related to specific targets or goals, and whether goals are being met.

Once healthcare executives have the right information in real time, they will be empowered to use comparative analytics to draw insights and make strategic decisions that improve the organization. They will have the ability to identify opportunities across the many dimensions in which the organization or department must excel, prioritize those opportunities, and realize them by monitoring and managing the initiatives that have been put in place.

The analytics should be organized and reported in ways that enable users to spot trends and opportunities across a single service metric, department, organization, or multihospital system. For example, when looking to improve performance in the emergency department, users can:

  • Compare performance with their peers, either nationally, regionally, or along other parameters
  • View department-specific trends to identify performance variations that require further investigation
  • Do a deeper dive into those variations by tracking real-time comparative data about specific metrics at specific times

Here’s an example of the type of outcome this analysis might generate. The organization could discover that nurses and therapists in the ED are in the 25th percentile for hours per ED visit compared with peer organizations, meaning that 75 percent of peer hospitals are achieving greater productivity. This information could then lead managers to look into areas where lower-cost assistants or techs could assume certain tasks currently being performed by therapists and nurses to help bring costs in line with peer organizations.

With these types of trusted, high-quality comparative analytics at their disposal, executives can effectively assess performance across the organization and with peer organizations, enabling them to identify improvement opportunities and drive decision-making around action in as close to real time as possible. Comparative analytics are key to ensuring high-value care delivery as well as the competitive viability of healthcare organizations.

Just like James Holzhauer, the more you know, the better chance you have of coming out on top of the ultra-competitive healthcare marketplace. Data and analytics that are clean, integrated, trusted, and provide as close to real-time information as possible have the power to enable real insights, as well as real change and sustained improvement, at all levels of healthcare organizations.

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