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Tapping business intelligence tools to prepare for the future

Physician practices often don't use business intelligence tools, but doing so would help guide practice strategy

When it comes to using business intelligence tools, most medical practices have yet to graduate kindergarten. But a closer look at these BI systems suggests it’s time to start using them to define trends in patient population and improve operational and clinical performance.

“From the standpoint of business intelligence tools, most medical practices don’t use a lot of anything. That’s why they are in the trouble they’re in,” said David Zetter, a member of the National Society of Certified Healthcare Business Consultants and founder of Zetter HealthCare.

Physicians get virtually no training in the business of medicine in medical school, and in many practices, administrators, also, often don’t have the training to use BI tools, Zetter said. Some practices, particularly, large ones, may have membership in professional organizations, such as the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), where they have access to some rudimentary BI tools, but on the whole, physicians are out of the BI loop.

But physicians should make the effort to get in the BI loop, said Vincent James LaRosa, healthcare IT practice director at the consulting firm Eliassen Group Healthcare. Using BI tools can play a critical role in guiding a practice’s strategic plan. 

For instance, a practice can use BI tools to benchmark the practice’s performance and help it prepare for the future. Investing in a system would allow physicians to track accounts receivable days, payment turnaround days and several other performance indicators, he said. A practice can also use BI tools to collect data on Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) metrics, which is especially important if the practice accepts Medicare and Medicaid claims.

Investing in a practice management program that includes a BI component that can spot underserved patients also makes sense, said LaRosa. Collecting data on the number of patients in the practice who have sports injuries, for instance, or who have work-related trauma may open up a new direction for the practice to take, and prompt a patient education program geared to preventing injuries. Once a practice becomes the local “center of excellence” for such injuries, it’s likely it will attract more patients with these problems.

In a hospital setting, analysts have access to a long list of data elements and those elements are professionally documented. Most medical practices don’t have the infrastructure to do these kinds of analyses, nor can they afford the sophisticated analytics programs to crank out the data, LaRosa acknowledged. Nonetheless, he said, less advanced systems like athenahealth’s EHR/practice management platform or MTBC’s BI tools are worth considering to help medical practices gain a competitive edge.

[Learn more about analytics best practices: Healthcare Business Intelligence Forum]

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