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Healthcare Business Intelligence: A Smart Investment in any Economy

Smart companies set the pace, even in challenging economic times. What are their secrets for smart investing?

This article originally appeared on the BeyeNETWORK

Somewhere in the distant past, somebody coined the term “economic climate,” likening the state of the economy to natural weather patterns. We have come to think and talk about the economy using this metaphor in phrases like clouds on the horizon, sunny day predictions, financial doldrums and bellwether stocks and companies. We act as if recessions and expansions are beyond our control. Yet, the metaphor of the economic climate has become a useful mechanism for separating the smart economic players from the mediocre economic players.

The direction of the economy is really the result of individual and collective actions before, during and after a recession, expansion, depression or golden time. We have a great deal more control over our economic condition than we realize. This is true at an individual level, a departmental or divisional level as well as at an organizational level.

Organizations often act as if there are two investment strategies, one for an upturn and another for a downturn. But smart companies make investments that pay off in any economy. In short, smart companies make their own economy. There are bull stocks even in bear markets.

Of course, you know I am going to include business intelligence in the list of investments that are good in any economy. But there are other investments that healthcare and other organizations can make that are economy-agnostic, and these investments share some of the same characteristics that make business intelligence capabilities resistant to economic swings.

Investments that Pay Off in Any Economy

Economic-resistant investments have three characteristics in common with each other. They are:

  • Grown vs. Installed. Many people think that you can simply install a business model, a business program or a business application and it will start generating value by itself. There are hundreds or thousands of web-based businesses that are now defunct that viewed investment this way. And there are thousands of troubled data warehouses, business intelligence applications and core operational systems that began with the install-it-and-sit-back philosophy. Real, long-term value comes from recognizing at the outset that growth, evolution and value-generation require sustained sponsorship, attention, maintenance and marketing.

  • An Endless Pursuit. Investments that are durable despite the economy are aimed toward a goal that can never fully be reached. In effect, they are more like missions than goals.

  • Set the Pace. When designed well, this endless pursuit and the grown capabilities that support it create a gap between your organization and the competition that they will never be able to fill completely.

A short list of investments that satisfy these criteria and are, therefore, good investments in any economy, includes:

  • Process Improvement. Every organization in any economy has waste, clutter and cost in its processes. Lean, Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and a host of other process improvement methods are designed to wring out this waste. Does your organization view process improvement programs as efforts that can be switched on and off? If so, then you might as well switch them off completely and let the competition win because these philosophies require one thing over all others – consistent, persistent pursuit.

  • Relationship Management. Growing your relationships is essential whether you are talking about customer relationships, employee relationships, partner relationships, etc. It does not matter if the economy is good or the economy is bad; all of these relationships must be continually fed. Like process improvement, relationship management requires consistency and persistency to be successful.

  • Analytics and Business Intelligence. The same is true of your organization’s intellectual and analytical capabilities. Let these lapse, and you are, in effect, creating your own recession.

  • Compliance Exploitation. Regulatory and industry compliance are often viewed as additional taxes on organizations. In a way, they are. But if compliance is inevitable like death and taxes, then you might as well get some value out of the investments you are forced to put into it. For instance, what positive value did your organization get out of HIPAA compliance? Did you try, or did you take a passive, victim approach? What about the quality accreditation requirements “imposed” on you? Did you use them to change your processes?

  • Innovation. When the economic “climate” is gloomiest, that is the best time to adopt new business models, enter new markets and develop new products and services. Why? To get the juices flowing in your organization and catch the attention of your investors, prospective employees, patients and customers. Retail clinics are an example of a new business model for many providers. So is medical tourism. In addition, some old models are making a comeback, like house calls. Don’t contract when there is an economic contraction. Expand and keep your feet moving.

As you can see from this list, these are all very abstract, high-level categories of programs, processes and business and technical applications. This is the way it has to be. Real vision and real growth comes from rising above the storms to see connections across your industry, your organization, your department/division and your professional field.

Each of these general applications has one or more business intelligence application equivalent, such as:

  • Quality and Process Improvement. Provider organizations must capture, process and report quality information to maintain accreditation with programs such as the CMS, JCAHO, NCQA as well as specialty organizations. This information comes from a variety of sources including claims, care records, lab records, patient registries and other operational systems. This is a rich source of data about both the clinical actions within your organization as well as the results of those actions, which can be used to improve processes and achieve better results.

  • Patient, Partner and Staff Relationship Management. What are your patients, your stakeholders, your partners, your doctors and your staff telling you about how you are doing? What are you telling them about how they are doing? In business, relationships mean trades of value for value. A patient and a provider have a good relationship if the patient feels they get good service for the money and the provider feels they are getting the money they are entitled to for the service they are providing. Similarly, partners, stakeholders, doctors, nurses and staff have a good relationship when money and other forms of value (trust, growth, security, community, etc.) are in balance. Analyzing feedback to you and, more importantly, about you to others for trends is essential to improving your relationships.

  • Clinical, Financial and Operational Performance Management. Just as process improvement can be measured and improved using information from sources you already own, performance can also be measured and improved using your own data. In healthcare organizations, translating clinical performance into financial performance is important in order to measure and improve the value of the care provided. And translating financial performance into operational requirements is essential to sustaining that financial performance. Business intelligence can help you find, measure and establish these translations in your organization.

  • New Business Models and Market Discovery. Understanding the trends in the healthcare industry and how you can take advantage of those trends is another area served well by business intelligence. What, for instance, would be the impact on your clinics and your emergency department of expanding into clinics in retail stores (i.e., a new business model)? What would the impact be of insuring the uninsured population (i.e., a new market)? What would the risks and rewards be of sponsoring medical tourism through your organization?

  • Regulatory Compliance Exploitation. Regulatory reporting is often times still being done with ad hoc reporting, spreadsheets and desktop databases. Even where it is done with rolled up data in a data warehouse, much of its value is lost. The reason for this is simple. Reporting is viewed in many organizations as passive submission to the requirements of the regulatory authority. Hence, the name compliance. But this is data about your organization’s activities and/or the results of those activities. Capturing, organizing, storing, sorting, slicing and aggregating it for analysis (i.e., business intelligence) gives you a way to use that data for more than passive compliance. It gives you the ability to see trends in the compliance demands and, more importantly, see trends and patterns in your operations. These trends give you the opportunity to exploit that data to improve your organization.

Next Steps

Don’t let the economy lead your organization by the nose. Smart companies in all industries set the pace, even in “bad times.” Invest in business models, business programs and business applications that deliver value in any economy. Doing so will make your organization stronger, more self-reliant and better prepared to make even bigger gains during the “good times.”

Thanks for reading!

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