Beyond dashboards: Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's approach to analytics

According to a report from Arcadia, hospitals generate an average of 50 petabytes of data annually, and a substantial portion, up to 97%, remains untapped or unused. But one CIO and his organization are stepping beyond dashboards to turn data into actionable insights. 

Children's Healthcare of Atlanta recently earned level 9 in the acute survey category of the College of Healthcare Information Management Executives' "Digital Health Most Wired Survey for 2023," marking the eighth consecutive year that Children's has earned the recognition. 

The organization achieved superior rankings from CHIME in categories including analytics and data management, population health, infrastructure and patient engagement.

The strategies driving the organization's success, according to Jeremy Meller, CIO of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, are in implementation of machine learning algorithms, robust data governance and a unique approach to strategic data assets.

Question: CHIME said Children's ranked above peers in categories such as analytics and data management, population health, infrastructure and patient engagement. What specific strategies or practices have contributed to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's ranking in analytics and data management?

Jeremy Meller: We do things that most others do, like dashboards for clinical and operational metrics, but we also have been working hard to develop more advanced analytics capabilities and bring these to clinical workflows in meaningful ways.

To start, we have established really good data-governance, involving representatives from across the organization. This stewardship program helps encourage more leaders to become an active part of our "learning health system."

We're taking a unique approach to what we are calling strategic and trusted data assets as well. We're not just focused on providing data on a screen or a dashboard, instead, we're really engaged with the organization and looking how we can use the information to help us improve our operations.  

For things that are a part of a declared strategic data asset, they must be aligned with major organizational goals — and they need to have executive sponsorship. We have been standardizing the look and feel of our self-service tools for usability, including common elements such as KPIs, data over time, outlier analysis, outcomes and process measures impacting a strategic goal. 

We require that we have a data analytics person embedded onto operational teams using these data assets to help us drive outcomes. This helps us understand what the problems are so we can fine tune the output to support better outcomes. And we're already seeing a lot of success with this approach.

I'm also really excited about what we are doing with machine learning to help develop clinical decision-support algorithms. An example is using physiological or bio-markers in order to identify when a patient may be deteriorating sooner. The key here is how the data is used in the clinical operation to make an impact.

Q: What investments or innovations has Children's made in its infrastructure to maintain performance in these categories?

JM: One of the things that we've developed is our health informatics core, which is a part of our research organization. It's research that is grant funded and has three units: the data delivery unit, a collaboration unit and innovation unit. Our goal is to turn this into a full technology innovation center over the next several years.

Research and innovation have a hard time competing with operational priorities in a big, busy organization. And so we decided that we needed to create a special unit whose only purpose was to drive exploration and innovation in our clinical practice settings. So this is a group that helps pilot and run real-world simulations and tests to help validate the hypotheses and the models that we've created to help us see the impact of them.  If the impact is meaningful, we can then prioritize a larger project.

Q: Can you share any plans to further enhance Children's standing in analytics and data management, population health, infrastructure and patient engagement?

JM: Big priorities include hybrid cloud capabilities, dynamic security infrastructure and connecting everything.

Our strategies rely on data — and so much more data is being created these days that is actually useful — whether it be facility systems or medical devices. The data needs to be accessible but secure — and having dynamic data and security management capabilities is core to this.

And then of course is our digital patient experience. That's a huge priority for everybody that involves not only deployment of tools and technology for patients but also involves a lot of redesign of core practices within our organization.

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