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Using analytics as a business strategy

Take the time to form a data analytics strategy to get the most out of it

The lure of data analytics is strong, but providers need to slow down in order to get the most out of it and not undermine what they’re trying to accomplish with it.

“There’s a lot of bridges being built to nowhere,” said Brett Davis, a general manager with Deloitte Health during a webinar on data analytics. Some health organizations are “integrating data almost for the sake of integrating data.”

[See also: 5 keys to leveraging data analytics]

That’s a mistake that Davis sees some providers making as they try to adapt to health reform with the goal of transitioning to an organization driven by data.

There is the draw of going big fast, with millions of dollars spent even by medium-sized hospitals on basic electronic health records, but really providers should take their time in building onto the new EHR infrastructure – especially during this time of upheaval, with the Affordable Care Act attempting to align healthcare incentives but not having fully done so yet. 

“Analytics is an ongoing journey; it’s really a way of doing business,” Davis said.

To think about that journey-as-business approach, he offered a parable, “an imperfect analogy to healthcare but illustrative.”

In the 1980s and 1990s, large retailers like Wal-Mart started installing IT for supply chain management and for tracking sales – technology now considered basic that Davis said is the equivalent of EHRs today.

Although the company didn’t dive right into analytics (and perhaps it could not at the time), Wal-Mart didn’t stop with that basic infrastructure. It later rolled out an analysis strategy that included not only customer data analysis but also external data, such as the weather, and soon knew when to “stock water bottles and pop tarts at the front of the store,” Davis said.

Following that model, providers with EHR systems that are several years old could outline a vision for what they want analytics solutions to help them do in say, two, five and 10 years – what kinds of variabilities in patient care they want to reduce, for instance, or what kinds of clinical innovations they would like to develop.

Some providers are already starting to use analytics smartly. And the successful organizations he’s worked with start their analytics journey with a specific problem.

Moffitt Cancer Center, for example, started with a program sequencing the genomes of cancer patients and tumors to build what is now a database with information on some 400,000 patients.

That database used in an informatics platform now supports clinical, molecular and epidemiological research, in addition to decision support at the point of care to help clinicians and patients get a sense of the comparative effectiveness of their treatment options.

“The future is already here," Davis quoted cyberpunk author William Gibson, "it’s just not evenly distributed yet.”

This story is based on a report that originally appeared on Government Health IT.

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