Electronic Health Records

The business case for big data and healthcare analytics

As is the case with most revolutions, it’s hard to see how the new order will establish itself while we’re still in the midst of the chaos, and “big data” is no exception to the rule.  “Data is good” and “the more data the better” may be familiar slogans by now, but why are we spending so much time collecting information, and what are we going to get out of it?  For providers on the front lines, overwhelmed with reporting initiatives, shrinking profits, expanding partnerships, and an explosion of new requirements, it’s not always easy to see the answer.  But there is a business case for incorporating analytics into healthcare, and it really will help providers in the long run.

Right now, the kingdom of analytics is ruled by the big academic medical centers and sprawling health systems like Kaiser Permanente.  With the financial and staff resources and the data to delve into the wealth of information collected by their long-standing EHR systems, the large systems are perfectly positioned to turn deep pools of information into actionable business intelligence, population management tools, and financial trending forecasting.  Patient data is increasingly becoming a vital business asset to hospitals looking to cut costs and improve services while adhering to healthcare reform precepts mandated by the government.

So how will it help providers?  And how will it help patients?  The answer lies in identifying patterns and acting on them.  Analytics tools are actively reducing preventable readmissions, seeking out undiagnosed diabetes patients, helping ophthalmologists study eye diseases, creating designer treatments for cancer patients, and identifying population health trends through DNA analysis, among other practical applications that have an immediate impact on patient lives.

Providers who feel like meaningful use criteria and quality reporting programs are a pointless and time-consuming addition to their already packed schedules can look at these use cases and take comfort in the fact that the data is going somewhere important.   The second and third stages of meaningful use are geared towards opening up EHR systems to health information exchange that allows providers to share data and aggregate information for analytics, which will help target high-risk patients and get them the treatment they need to prevent expensive hospitalizations in the future.

As the industry moves towards accountable care and away from fee-for-service reimbursement, predictive risk analysis is going to become critical in the fight to keep patients out of the hospital, which will in turn keep providers raking in revenues.  “If a health system is going to try to take on risk and do bundled payment, they need to know where their variation is in their service lines,” says Brett Furst, CEO of ArborMetrix, a healthcare analytics company specializing in specialty and acute care. “The risk is shifting to the providers, so there’s a bit of inevitability to it.  For the smart and really leading-edge health systems or even health plans, good analytics to understand where the variation and opportunity are is upon us.”

“Opportunity” is the key word when it comes to big data.  Analytics prepares business for what comes next, gives them a leading edge in a crowded, difficult market, and helps executives and managers make the right choices based on cold, hard facts.  “You want to get the big value of big data?” Furst asks. Successful businesses are going to be those “who are applying their own algorithms and filtering out the noise to get something that’s actionable: to find the signal, as we like to say in statistics.”

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