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Data Analytics: A Critical Tool

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Pat Stricker, RN, MEd, Senior Vice President
TCS Healthcare Technologies

Immediate and ongoing analysis of data is an essential aspect of any organization today. In the past, organizations relied upon weekly or monthly reports to show how well the business or programs were doing. Decisions were then made, based on that information. Today, with the increased use of health information technology (HIT), we don’t have to wait that long to make decisions or change direction. We have a wealth of real-time data available and the ability to analyze it quickly to make immediate decisions or program changes. 

However, it is not easy to manage and analyze large amounts of data coming from numerous systems. The use of static reports, that have to be created in advance, doesn’t provide the ability to "slice and dice" the data, based on ever-changing needs. That is why more organizations are moving to data analytics software that allows them to analyze real-time data and drill down to the specific information they need at the time. Dashboards allow organizations to analyze and quickly change their programs or delivery processes to achieve better clinical and financial outcomes. 

For the past six years, the Case Management Society of America (CMSA), TCS Healthcare Technologies (TCS), and the American Board of Quality Assurance and Utilization Review Physicians, Inc. (ABQAURP) have sponsored the bi-annual Health Information (HIT) Survey. A core objective of the 2012 survey was to identify the primary trends in HIT systems, especially care management software applications, specific system functionality within those applications, and the use of data analytics software and reporting tools, e.g. dashboard/reporting systems and predictive modeling solutions. Schooner Strategies (dba Schooner Healthcare Services), who conducted and coordinated the surveys, has published a series of Trend Reports analyzing the results. 

Trend Report #8: Data Analytics and Reporting, to be released soon, highlights how extensively health care professionals are using HIT applications, as well as which software programs are being used, how they are being leveraged, and what types of functionality are most important in day-to-day work. 

The survey also elicited both positive and negative experiences about the affect HIT is having on different types of data analytics software and reporting tools used by organizations. 

—Importance of various aspects of dashboard functionality 
—Use of predictive modeling software to support population stratification 
—Attributes of care management software that are most frequently used 
—Stratification and predictive modeling attributes of care management software that are most frequently used 
—Impact and potential ROI of HIT systems 

The following is a short preview of Trend Report #8. 

One of the most surprising facts for me was the reported use of Excel as a data reporting tool by 39% of the respondents. That was almost twice as many respondents as the next most popular software, Crystal Reports. While Excel has been used for decades as a reporting tool, I would have expected it to be used less now, with the development of more sophisticated reporting tools. Yet it still seems to be used as the main reporting tool by smaller organizations and in conjunction with more sophisticated tools in larger organizations. Many respondents indicated the use of multiple reporting tools, suggesting their need to address multiple business requirements and a potential lack of data integration. 

Dashboard reporting tools are becoming increasing more popular because of their ability to quickly summarize large amounts of data based on parameters selected by the user. This customized analysis allows decision makers to easily analyze the data and make quick changes to programs or delivery processes to improve outcomes. The survey asked respondents to rate four key dashboard functionalities: (1) manipulating reports and data; (2) convenient access to/delivery of information; (3) viewing individual patient trends; and (4) viewing trends in large data sets. The results were fairly evenly distributed. At least half of the respondents ranked all functions as "very" or "most" important. The highest ranked aspect (by a narrow margin) was the ability to view trends for individual patients. From my years in management of these types of programs, I would have expected the highest ratings to be related to the ability to manipulate reports and analyze trends for large data sets. However, since a large number of the respondents were case managers or other stakeholders, it’s not surprising that they would rank the patient level data more important, since it helps them identify and address the needs of their individual patients. 

Another survey goal was to determine the use of predictive modeling solutions to support population stratification. About 25% of respondents indicated they use some sort of predictive modeling, with 16% being internally developed applications and 9% using an outside vendor. 30% of respondents indicated that the ability to stratify health care information based on business rules to promote population-based screening and/or identify potential candidates for case or disease management was an important functionality. Only 12% felt the ability to predict future medical costs for an individual or a selected population was a useful care management HIT function. This low percentage may be due to the fact that this is not seen as a function of the care management system, but rather a separate analytics tool. 

The return on investment (ROI) is an important aspect for organizations adopting software solutions. The 2012 survey sought an answer to whether implementing various HIT systems improved clinical or financial outcomes or made organizations more or less efficient. The survey question was left as broad as possible, allowing respondents to comment on the successes and failures of their health IT programs. While the survey was not able to define a specific ROI related to adopting HIT programs, about 46% of the responses were positive compared to 14% that were negative. The over 3:1 ratio of optimistic responses demonstrated that respondents felt the positive impact of implementing HIT systems outweighed the costs and inconveniences of implementing the systems. Another 40% could not be characterized as positive or negative, providing mixed results or citing lack of knowledge about ROI or outcomes that occurred as a result of new HIT systems. 

While the overall results showed less use and perceived importance on data analytics and reporting than I would have expected, it is clear that adoption of data analytics tools is widespread and continuing to grow. HIT data analytics tools are changing the way health care professionals view, analyze and manage data – giving them much more specific information about the needs of their individual patients, as well as providing analysis of overall program design and delivery to help improve clinical and financial outcomes. 

Leveraging data analysis has become a critical function and will continue to play a key role in health care accountability and transparency. As with any new technology, it will take years before the full potential of large-scale analytical tools is realized. 

Trend Report #8: Data Analytics and Reporting will be released soon. To view the entire Trend Report go to or TCS Healthcare Technologies.

To contact Pat Stricker, email her at pstricker@tcshealthcare.comor reach her at (530) 886-1700 ext. 215.  


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