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Business Intelligence

February 1, 2009
by Daphne Lawrence
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Now, more than ever, hospitals need to identify and track key performance metrics to improve operational efficiency

In today's hospital environment, improving operational efficiency, both financially and to ensure patient safety has never been more important. Today's challenging financial climate and increasing focus on transparency for reimbursement and reporting from both payers and the government are driving hospitals to do the most they with what they have. Most agree that means utilizing data more efficiently.
Greg walton

Greg Walton

But in hospitals, that data is all over the place. The hospital norm is many disparate systems that feed hospital IT; identifying key performance metrics that hospitals can easily track, and then using those metrics for improvements is a challenge. And though many forms of business intelligence (BI) have long been utilized in the financial area for financial reporting, integrating that information with the clinical side is the name of the game today. In addition to the typical financial indicators, like length of stay, the data can be reused to monitor patient safety for adverse drug reactions or events such as nosocomial infections, or for measures like time from medication order to administration.
Mike davis

Mike Davis

“Hospitals, whether they're 200 beds or 400 beds, often have lots of silos,” says Greg Walton, CIO of 400-bed El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif. “It's very difficult to talk to a physician without continual data. So the real desire here is to tackle the clinical side.”
Sue schade

Sue Schade

Mike Davis, vice president at Chicago-based HIMSS Analytics, agrees. “I think the key to BI for all hospitals is how we create an environment where we can look at the financial and clinical data together and understand the impact and relationships between them.”

According to Sue Schade, a pioneer in the use of business intelligence at Boston-based Brigham and Women's Hospital, hospitals should be using BI for directional and strategic planning and decision making. In the “Balanced Scorecard” BI project at Brigham, Schade says she took the textbook view of a balanced scorecard approach — quality, operations, finance, the customer view, and the employee view.

And in a time of thin or evaporating margins, BI can help the executive team make the tough decisions. “A lot of people are using BI to figure out where their true markets are,” says Davis. “‘Which services are profitable, which do we expand and which do we cut?’ Hospitals should all be doing that kind of thing today.”

The solution

Many are using a wide variety of tools — from simple spreadsheets to extensive data warehouses. “What I see is a lot of people starting to create environments where they have databases that they're downloading,” Davis says. “When you talk about the very sophisticated hospitals, they have a database they dump all this data into and then use for BI.”

That's what Schade has been doing at Brigham, using Cary, N.C.-based SAS. “We probably have about 80 different data feeds into our balanced scorecard data warehouse.” It's so effective, she says, because of its transparency. “From an end-user perspective, they don't see all those feeds — what they see is the reporting capability, like one-stop shopping.”

Davis says he believes smaller hospitals lacking a BI server or data warehouse can do the same thing with Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft's Access or Excel. “It's just a matter of how you get the data into that environment and what are the tool sets available to utilize it,” he says. “Even if you're using Excel for small hospitals, there are a lot of things you can do with that data.”

And though Access and Excel can be useful, a newer Microsoft product may be promising to deliver the next level of BI. At El Camino, Walton has just implemented Microsoft Amalga, a unified, system-wide platform that aggregates and enables the analysis of data across the organization. Using Amalga in conjunction with Sharepointe (which most organizations already have) is, Walton believes, a solution that holds much promise.

“I think the sleeper for organizations (and the) big surprise will be Sharepointe,” he says. “The combination of Amalga and Sharepointe is going to deliver a knockout punch to a lot of these problems that we've faced for a long time.” Walton says he is extremely bullish on the solution because the tools look familiar to the end user. “The philosophy to this whole strategy is to put the power into the hands of the end user,” he says. “That's where breaking down the silos should make an enormous difference in the quality of the work that these folks are able to do.”

Enterprise-wide IT solutions like Amalga can be solutions to what most say is the main problem in implementing a BI strategy. “This is where the ugly word interoperability comes back in,” Davis says, “getting that data out of one system and into another environment in order to analyze, trend and evaluate it on a timely basis.”

But with so many enterprise IT vendors touting BI tools as part of their systems, why aren't more hospitals utilizing them? Not so fast, Walton says — there's one big drawback: “They're built into their enterprise system, and there's the rub,” he says.