Post-HIMSS17 reflections: 4 key attributes and 1 essential virtue for healthcare analytics firms

It was a common story that I heard over and over again at the recent Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society 2017 Conference and Exhibition in Orlando, Fla.:

Some years ago, a very smart and clever individual (or group of individuals) came up with an index or model or set of algorithms that when applied to most any patient population has been proven to be highly accurate in its predictive value.

Variants of this story were related to me by a number of small healthcare analytics firms addressing a particular area of interest of mine. Their stories sounded so similar that I started to confuse them as I reviewed my post-conference notes, which got me thinking, "Which of these firms is best positioned for long-term, sustainable competitive advantage and success?"

As I considered this question, four critical attributes and one essential, overarching virtue came to mind.

First, during this time of impending health policy transformation, healthcare analytics firms need to keep abreast of and quickly adapt to policy changes. Representatives from one vendor with whom I spoke have bet their company's future on the continuation of a single healthcare delivery reform mandated by the Affordable Care Act, with no backup plan in case the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled Congress choose to go in a different direction.

Second, with all due respect to the unquestionably intelligent individual or group of individuals who came up with the initial index or model, analytics vendors need to continually replenish their pool of human capital by bringing in new employees—in particular, data analysts and data scientists to complement staff with healthcare domain expertise—and create a "learning organization" culture to refine the company's predictive toolkit.

Third, healthcare analytics firms need to stay on top of advances in technology. The era of big data has raised the bar of expectations with regard to speed, sophistication, and precision.

And fourth, recognizing that "No man is an island," analytics firms need to work collaboratively with others, and embrace and leverage interoperability, using data from disparate sources. The increasingly recognized value of social determinants of health and precision medicine are examples of trends that underscore the value of this organizational attribute.

Now I fully recognize that these four attributes are not terribly profound, but in my conversations with many healthcare analytics firms, I have found resistance to them, rooted invariably in pride in what their company has done to date. I often hear, for example, because the founder of the firm is so smart, perhaps even revered, we don't expect to have to refine the index, so we don't need new innovators to join our company. Or because our algorithms work so well with just data from one source, we don't need to think about incorporating data from other sources.

Of course, the virtue that is the antidote to pride is humility, a character trait that sadly seems to be in increasingly short supply in our culture. It takes humility to take on the posture of a student of health policy changes. It takes humility to not settle for the company's current staff composition and be willing to add new employees with new ideas and different perspectives. It takes humility to be in continual learning mode with respect to emerging technologies. And it takes a measure of humility to engage with other organizations and be open to tapping other data sources to enhance predictive models.

I hope to hear stories that embody these four attributes and this virtue at HIMSS18.

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