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Promoting Healthcare Business Intelligence Applications

To generate value, business intelligence applications must be embraced - and consistently used - by the user community.

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

Business intelligence holds the promise of helping healthcare organizations solve many of the big challenges they face today, such as increased demand for information on quality, performance, outcomes and cost. The key to getting this information and using it to solve these problems is making sure that people are using the data. As I learned firsthand, even the best business intelligence applications can lose money if the user community doesn’t embrace them.

Whose job is it to make sure your applications are being used most effectively, or even being used at all? Most of the roles in business intelligence and data warehousing are geared toward the front-end activities such as planning, designing and building applications. Less emphasis is placed on championing these applications among the users once they are implemented. Three roles come to mind that are involved with the application once it is launched. These are the system administrator (if one exists), trainers and help desk staff. None of these roles, however, is specifically charged with the task of making sure that the sizable investments in business intelligence provide a return.

I recommend designating a champion for your business intelligence or data warehouse application. Even a world-class business intelligence application begins to lose value if it is not being used, and the situation involves much more than just protecting your investment. Recently there has been a steep rise in demand for information about your organization’s effectiveness, quality, safety and efficiency from payers, purchasers, patients, government agencies and quality watchdog groups. If you are not making your information work for you, then you run the risk of having it used against you.

Over the past few years, I have been watching real people in healthcare organizations take on the challenge of championing their business intelligence applications with great success. Few of these champions were formally appointed to take on this pivotal role. Hopefully their success stories and methods can help you make the most of your own business intelligence applications.

Championing Business Intelligence at the Executive Level
At the executive level, the focus of the promotional message is not the business intelligence application itself, but the benefits that improved information can bring. For instance, healthcare industry champions at the national level promote information to help solve the key issues facing the industry, such as:

Embedded in each of their messages, however, is a call for greater understanding of patients, providers, operations, finances, economics and strategic direction. These subjects are the essence of business intelligence. Once received by your organization, these messages must be translated into priorities that your people can act upon. On which patients, providers, operating units and systems do we focus our efforts? What is the effect in terms of outcomes, quality and efficiency? What is the financial as well as the economic impact? Business intelligence is the vehicle to translate these industry themes into organizational initiatives, and subsequently into tactical actions.

At the executive level, there are some techniques that can be employed to get your organization thinking in business intelligence terms. Here are some examples that I have encountered:

Using Collaboration
One visionary CEO uses a richly layered approach to promote business intelligence both inside and outside his organization. He takes the lead in painting the big picture of the regional healthcare information organization (RHIO) in his state and then defines the evolution of the collaborative organization and its scope. In essence, he is working with his peer organizations to identify key measures they should all strive to improve upon, such as the effectiveness, timeliness, safety, efficiency and accessibility of healthcare. From this, he then helps member organizations and his own organization drill into how they can act upon these aims and measure their own progress. In this way, he is gathering greater intelligence from the talented people at each of the member organizations and using that collected intelligence to help healthcare evolve as a whole.

Using Direction
In contrast, another executive at an integrated healthcare organization uses an elegantly simple approach to championing a business intelligence application that he sponsored. Because he has been actively involved with the financial data warehouse (FDW) since its inception, he knows what data it contains. Therefore, any time this CFO sees a report or an analysis that includes that information, he simply asks if the numbers came from the FDW. His question leads the manager or analyst to the right answer (i.e., yes) and causes embarrassment to those who answer no. His people have become a group of missionaries for the FDW as they become familiar with the application and extol its virtues to others they work with on a daily basis.

Championing Business Intelligence at the Management and Physician Level
Two techniques I have used effectively in the past to champion business intelligence applications are “tips” and “tours.” Tips are generally used to frequently inject interest in the application into the user community, and tours are used to jump-start peoples’ familiarity with the application. Following are two examples of using these techniques in a healthcare setting:

Using Tips
One application developer has taken system tips to a new level of effectiveness. She was the business analyst during the planning and design stage of the application, and the reporting capabilities developer during the construction stage. From this combination of experiences, she was keenly aware of the users and their needs, and she had a complete understanding of the reporting and analysis capabilities of the application. Each week, she would send a tip on how to solve an analytical problem in the clinical, administrative and/or business areas of the organization. After about four or five weeks, she began to receive requests from her audience on how to answer specific analytical questions using the application. If it was a broad question, she would generalize it and use it as a weekly tip. In this way, the user community knew she was listening to them and responding to their collective needs for information.

Using Tours
Another clinical IT liaison promotes business intelligence in his organization through executive, management and physician tours. He is a physician who has worked in several of the organization’s clinics and hospitals, so he knows just about everybody. What he found was that many physicians and their supporting staff were not using the operational statistics business intelligence application because they did not know where to begin. Furthermore, they were busy all day and did not really have time to spend learning it. This doctor created a one-page cheat sheet with the key types of data to be found in the system (e.g., patient flows, patient census, time measurements, etc.). He then conducted thirty-minute tours of the system. Over a six-month period, he conducted forty-four tours. His audience included groups such as: a cardiologist and his or her supporting physician assistants, and nurses; and a quality manager surrounded by a team of quality analysts and care managers. He would begin by distributing the cheat sheet as a takeaway and then start clicking into the system’s reports and drilling down on key questions he had previously heard from the group. In every tour, he began with his hand clicking the mouse; but by the end of the session, the leader of the group would be clicking (and promoting) the application.

Championing Business Intelligence at the Analyst and Staff Level
Tips and tours also work great in promoting business intelligence applications at the analyst and staff levels of healthcare organizations. There are, however, some techniques that add punch to the message. Here are a few:

  • Using Quotes.
    A nurse who works for a diabetes physician promotes use of the patient registry business intelligence application in her organization by quoting statistics from analyses she has performed. For instance, in one meeting on outreach, she quoted a specific percentage of patients in rural areas who had not had diabetic foot exams in the past few months. She turned every head in the room. It did not take long for the word to spread that the registry was a great place to get statistical data – and to get attention.

  • Using Indirect Educational Methods.
    A pair of nurse educators travel to family practice clinics, hospitals, specialty clinics, long-term care facilities and home health operations within their organization with the mission of improving clinical workflow. While facilitating workshops and drawing up process flow, they interject statements such as: “...and you get your prioritized patient lists from the registry here,” or “Check the registry to see how long it has been since you’ve seen the patient and what educational materials he or she may need.” If they are met with quizzical looks, they launch into a sales pitch for the application and the benefits it provides in terms of efficiency and effectiveness in clinical workflows.

  • Using Conferences.
    One of my favorite examples is that of a disability claims analyst who speaks at conferences promoting the value of business intelligence to his organization. He was a subject-matter expert on a business intelligence project to prioritize disability cases by severity, complexity and the number of outside sources of information a case manager would need to close the file. He developed the business algorithm that made prioritization easy by using statistical evidence collected for continuous process improvement purposes. He was rewarded by being asked to speak at conferences on how he accomplished this. Naturally, he is seen by his peers as a local hero. The even more valuable benefit to his organization is that his efforts serve as a constant reminder to use data to solve everyday analytical and operational problems. He makes analysis a normal part of the workday.

Next Steps
Consider the business intelligence applications you have in place and whether or not they are generating the kind of return you envisioned. If not, determine the benefits to the organization of increasing their usage.

There are a number of methods that you can employ to promote these applications. The methods you use differ depending upon whether you are promoting business intelligence at the national, regional, executive or organizational level. Find your champions or, better yet, determine whether or not you have a person who is capable of promoting the application in order to get that return.

Thanks for reading. I look forward to your comments.

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