CommonSpirit's Dr. James Reichert: Think beyond data, technology when building an analytics platform

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As the executive in charge of medical informatics and clinical analytics at CommonSpirit Health, James Reichert, MD, PhD, is working to develop an analytics platform across the care continuum for 170 care sites within the Chicago-based health system.

Dr. Reichert has more than 20 years of experience in informatics. Recently, he used data and standardized analytics tools to improve patient outcomes and quality measures at Catholic Health Initiatives hospitals in 17 states. The Englewood, Colo.-based health system and Dignity Health in San Franciso merged to form CommonSpirit in February.

After earning his medical degree from Hershey-based Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, Dr. Reichert completed his doctor of philosophy degree in medical informatics from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Here, Dr. Reichert discusses his top priority as he sets out to build the new analytics platform

Editor's Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and length.

Question: What is your main priority with building the new analytics platform?

Dr. James Reichert: When beginning this important work, it's a common mistake to focus only on the data and technology. Data and technology are required to create an analytic platform — but it is the people who must be aligned with a vision that prioritizes the health of our communities, which includes acute care facilities and ambulatory care centers encompassing the entire continuum of care. We have multiple stakeholders aligning with this vision, including our clinical and operational leaders, information technology data and analytics, advanced data science and the leadership overseeing quality, safety and patient experience.

Q: How can analytics be applied to improve patient care?

JR: Peter Drucker, one of the world's foremost management experts, famously stated: 'If you can't measure it, you can't improve it.' Measuring the quality of healthcare, let alone the health of the populations we serve, is an incredibly complex and difficult task requiring immense amounts of data and a sophisticated approach to efficiently transform that data into meaningful information and knowledge. The resulting analytic solutions can then be used by clinical and operational leaders to improve the care process to make it more efficient, to improve clinical outcomes and to standardize care where it makes sense. These analytic solutions can also be used at the point of care to assist the physician and nurse in making better decisions and ultimately providing more consistent care.

Q: What is the best way to leverage analytics in the outpatient setting?

JR: There are numerous approaches: One is to optimize the analytics provided by our EHR vendors through registries and other valuable tools that we have not fully taken advantage of yet. We can also use analytics to understand the alerts that providers are seeing to determine if they are adding value — or just noise — to the care process. Much of what has been implemented by EHR vendors has taken only limited advantage of analytics to truly understand the care process. We can — and will — do a lot more in this area.

Q: How do you anticipate analytics to advance in the healthcare space within the next three to five years?

JR: EHR vendors have done some work in analytics, but I believe this work will really take off over the next few years. Each customer taking the raw transactional data from the EHRs and then transforming that into usable information performs an expensive, time-consuming process that is prone to errors. This is not sustainable. EHR vendors can do this work and then provide support in the future so that we can focus on how the information is used — and thus make it most helpful to our providers and operational leaders.

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