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Health care data analytics: Lessons learned in a time of disruption

INSIGHT ARTICLE  | 

During a recent health care industry forum hosted in part by RSM, clinicians, chief information officers, technical business analysts, financial leaders and business developers from a variety of health care systems shared their thoughts on the impact of data analytics and technology during the height of the pandemic and continued reopening efforts. Based on their discussions, areas where optimized data and technology made a key impact, and will continue to do so, include the following:

Patient volumes and engagement

Most forum participants seemed pleased that patient volumes are back up. It was unclear if there are still patients lost to follow-up or in need of outreach. Most of the group did not think so, yet several said that volumes are still at least 5% lower than pre-pandemic. There may also still be unidentified care gaps. Several members of the group indicated wellness procedures such as colonoscopies remain down, as do specialist consults. What everyone did agree on was the importance of patient portals and text messages to keep patients engaged and enhance communication.

Operating room analytics

If there is any one area in which this group felt a continued need for analytics, it is operating room management—specifically surgeries, capacity and block utilization. Several participants expressed a need for better tools to optimize OR and procedure schedules and improve block allocations. There seems to be dissatisfaction with both electronic medical record solutions and vendor options. An area of even greater concern is referral management.

Forecasting

One advanced topic was forecasting and predictive analytics. Most forum participants had considered the need to predict patient volumes, occupancy, staffing requirements, surgeries patient delays, and other related measures. Some had attempted it, but there was consensus that most solutions remain reactionary and tactical. Providers are very good at reacting to events, but forecasting situations and preparing for them is beyond their current capabilities. Participants were optimistic that their forecasting abilities will improve in the future, but recognized it as an area where growth is still needed.

Participants also reflected on factors that have helped them succeed so far during the pandemic, including:

Cooperation and collaboration

One important theme of the group was that they have found success not by competing with other providers, but rather by reaching out, communicating and partnering. Community hospitals discussed how, during periods of high demand, they not only arranged to send their critical care COVID-19 patients to more advanced hospitals, but also tried to ease the burden on those hospitals by accepting some of their lower-acuity patients. Other participants discussed how they’ve shared information and resources with local organizations. All expressed a sense of pride in coming together to help their communities.

Struggles arise primarily when there is hesitancy to change, and achievements have mostly resulted from an extraordinary willingness to adapt.

Flexibility and agility

None of the participants claimed to be especially prepared for the pandemic. Instead, the success stories seemed to result from being able to react quickly and respond to the unexpected. Whether by rapidly implementing telehealth and other virtual solutions, listening to and supporting staff and patients, repurposing beds and clinics, or employing emergency department diversion processes and techniques, the common thread was that while providers were not at all prepared for the challenges, they have so far been able to pivot quickly, in large part by leveraging tools and technologies. Struggles arise primarily when there is hesitancy to change, and achievements have mostly resulted from an extraordinary willingness to adapt.

People, process, data and technology

Every participant thought that leveraging data and analytics has been paramount not only during the pandemic so far, but will remain so as they head into the future. Yet no one described advanced automation techniques or artificial intelligence solutions. Instead, there was discussion of the importance of regular patient-safety huddles, capacity-monitoring analytics, fire drills, structured rounding, and agile processes to recognize problems early and react. While there was interest in advanced analytics, most of the concrete solutions were a result of tactical analytics insights coupled with empowered employees.

The takeaway

Most in the group recognized the vital role technology and data have played so far in weathering the pandemic storm, and look forward to additional opportunities to leverage analytics going forward. However, it was clear that success, both past and future, lies in empowering staff and providing them with sufficient resources, including analytics, to succeed.


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