The emotional side of analytics

Healthcare today is awash with analytics solutions and talking points about the power of data to drive meaningful improvements to care delivery and the way organizations are run. Analytics, however, is more about how to communicate, than just how to calculate.

The numbers alone do not mean much, and if the numbers do not measure the right things they will never be leveraged properly to drive improvement.

Because of this, the process of developing effective analytics is far from simple.

There are five steps to developing meaningful analytics:
• Question
• Gather
• Analyze
Communicate
• Refine

While I'll focus on the Communication stage, it's important to paint a picture around the other steps.

For the group asking for the solution, the Question stage can be a bit frustrating. Good analytics teams will question your reasoning behind the solution you are asking for. Why do you need this? Why now? Will this create the need for an additional solution (tool, service, or additional data point)? How much will need to be invested (time/money)? How do we measure the value gained by the solution going forward? While this can feel like an interrogation, the point is to get to the real root of the ask. Doing so will result in the development of what you really need versus what you think you want.

Taken together, the Gather and Analyze steps are all about collecting, validating, organizing, and calculating the data and measures. In short, this is where the magic happens.

Like anything, for analytics to be effective it must be a continuous improvement process. During the Refine step it's important to challenge past findings and be open to new thoughts. Anything deemed "done" is soon to be outdated, and today's insights are tomorrow's givens. We must always seek to improve and innovate.

Communicating Logic with Emotion
It's this step that is the most interesting for those of us who are a little geeky at heart but don't have advanced degrees in mathematics. This step is all about the story the data is telling us, and how to best to tell that story.

People process first with emotion, then with logic. When making a decision we choose whether we care, then support that choice with logic. Facts alone are rarely enough to entice someone to act.

For analytics to be transformative to an organization they must be presented in a way that appeals to emotions. Without the ability to tell "the story" in a context that appeals to the audience, the numbers are forgotten and filed away. And, if you are challenging a strong opinion, analytics allow you to tell stories supported by data. It allows you to give a deeper understanding of what is real and supported, and what is suspect.

For example, we might provide a client a KPI about turnover being 9%. So what? What does that 9% mean for the organization? What is the cost of that 9% in dollars? What is the impact of that 9% in staff satisfaction? Is that 9% above or below national benchmarks? Internal benchmarks? Is the trend going up or down? What behaviors are leading to turnover in the first place? What steps can be taken to minimize those behaviors and thereby improve on that 9% stat?

Finding a clear and compelling way to illustrate this KPI in a way that not only resonates with the client but also prompts a response is the power of analytics. If analytics are not actionable, and the guidance derived from the numbers is not prescriptive, all you really presented was a snapshot of the problem. It's the solution that is demanded.

Endless Possibilities, Incredible Responsibilities
Now is an exciting time to be a provider and consumer of analytics. As more and more data becomes available we have the opportunity to analyze it in ways that have not even been conceived of yet. We have the opportunity to continually invent and innovate. We have the opportunity to create stories that will be transformative.

But we cannot fall in love with our own reflections. More charts and fancier graphs are not going to be of value after the initial "wow" you get upon their unveiling. What will resonate is the story those charts and graphs tell, and what will transform an organization is the action those stories inspire.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.​

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