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Health systems get analytics implementation off the ground

Hospitals and health systems may be somewhat behind the tech-adoption curve, but there are still things they can start doing today to implement analytics.

Partners Healthcare is one of the largest hospital systems in Massachusetts, yet for all its resources, it does some simple things when it comes to analytics.

Speaking at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics forum in Boston, Adrian Zai, clinical director of population informatics at Massachusetts General Hospital -- which is part of the Partners chain -- said his team's most impactful analytics implementation created a simple algorithm to predict which patients will show up for appointments. This prediction enables medical offices to more efficiently fill their schedule and direct follow-up contact to patients who may miss their appointment. Zai said the whole thing is done with nothing more than scheduling data.

"Oftentimes, I see organizations that say, 'We're not Partners or Mass General. We can't do the things you can do with all your resources,'" Zai said. "The reality is that's not true. You really don't need big data to start. You just need to know what data you need to drive one outcome. Just get going."

Few hospitals crunch data effectively

We need to stop hiding behind the technology piece, because it's not the problem.
Nicholas Markochief data officer, Geisinger Health System

Right now, few healthcare providers use analytics in an organized way. According to a nationwide survey of hospitals' technology adoption conducted by a health IT trade group, the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society, only 3.7% of hospitals have reached a point where they are storing and analyzing data in a systematic way. The majority of hospitals are still working toward implementing the record-keeping systems that create the data.

Healthcare as an industry may be behind other sectors when it comes to technology adoption, but Zai's example shows that hospitals don't have to remain stuck where they are currently when it comes to their analytics implementation.

"We need to stop hiding behind the technology piece, because it's not the problem," said Nicholas Marko, chief data officer at Geisinger Health System, based in Danville, Pa.

For some, strategy outdoes technology

For Marko, making effective use of analytics in healthcare is more about developing a strategy rather than putting in place the best and most powerful technology. A couple of years ago he saw a database administration team at Geisinger develop a disease registry for cardiologists so they could track the outcomes of care they delivered to their patients. The database team spent 1,100 man-hours developing the tool, but when they delivered it to the cardiologists, the cardiologists couldn't make sense of the data.

Marko said this dilemma happened because the health system lacked a unified approach to using data. Projects were done ad hoc, and there was no one involved to make sure that clinicians could make use of the reports being built by technical teams.

Today, Marko has taken it upon himself to act as the go-between. He's also helped develop a comprehensive data strategy that focuses on how each analytics implementation will be used in specific clinical workflows and requires clinical executives to be involved in defining the questions to which analytics is applied. Hospitals can tackle these factors even if they are still not very far along the technology adoption curve.

"[Technology] doesn't make for an analytics strategy or a data-driven culture," Marko said.

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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