Hospitals aren't making the most of their data — these 4 execs have advice

Hospital executives have vast deposits of data at their fingertips. However, they often struggle to understand what that data is telling them and how they can derive actionable insights.

Below, four executives discuss how hospitals can get the most out of their data.

Editor's note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and style.

Michael Restuccia. Senior Vice President and CIO for Corporate Information Services at Penn Medicine (Philadelphia). Much of the healthcare industry lacks the "trust" in provided data in order to derive actionable insights from the vast deposits of data. This lack of trust is the result of the combination of dirty data (end users not properly entering data), lack of formalized data definitions (what is an admission/discharge?) and shortfalls in leadership education to leverage data for decision making (most leaders have been trained to make decisions based upon experience and observation versus data).  

Gaining the trust of leaders is a tall task, but industry provided data definition standards, small scale successes and hands-on leadership training to mine and interrogate the available data are initial steps organizations should consider.

Zafar Chaudry, MD. Senior Vice President & CIO at Seattle Children's. Most hospital systems do have access to data (whether processed or unprocessed) from the entire scope of their business. However, I believe that health systems struggle with leveraging that data to solve strategic problems due to a lack of understanding by the various stakeholders as to what the data really means, and how it can be used to positively impact changes to service lines. 

To address this, healthcare delivery organizations should build up their analytics function with people that have the right skill sets (and software tools) to sit down with the relevant stakeholders, explain what the data really means, show them how the data can be used and leave the stakeholders trained on self-service tools that can be used to model their data.

Ash Goel, MD. Senior Vice President and CIO at Bronson Healthcare (Kalamazoo, Mich.). Data systems in the hospitals are varied and complex. While we have been building up on terabytes of data from EMR’s, medical and personal devices, scheduling and billing systems, imaging data to now digital patient interactions, the business drivers of investment in actionable insights have not evolved to keep up with the data variety. Most of the current work is centered around gaining financial and operational efficiencies that are driven by narrow, inward focused goals for the various entities. 

In general, as we have seen so often, "form follows finance" may be partially responsible for holding data insights hostage as well.  A few unique breakout opportunities have been in the space of identifying clinical variation or regulatory reporting which has matured in the last five years. The incremental improvement of technology that looks at discrete and unstructured data is also helping across some barriers, but a lot more needs to be done to make the best use of this data repository.  

Areas of opportunities include investment in shared ecosystems of de-identified datasets, better data governance and exchange standards, refinement of identity management where longitudinal tracking of data is relevant (such as patient care journeys), as well as a change in mindset and organizational strategies that include data-informed decision making as a cornerstone of contemporary healthcare delivery models.

Brendan Watkins. Chief Analytics Officer at Stanford Children's Health (Palo Alto, Calif.). The biggest problem is with the complexity of the data. In order to make an impact, the insights have to be combined with organizational change strategies. That can be a challenge if the conversations are primarily about data wrangling, acquisition or other complexities rather than what to do with the fundamental insights. 

The art of organizing the data and simplifying the insights is key.

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