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At iHT2-San Francisco, Healthcare IT Leaders See a (Very) Long Data Analytics Journey Ahead

March 3, 2015
by Mark Hagland
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Healthcare IT leaders participating in the Health IT Summit in San Francisco parse the many dimensions of the data analytics challenge in healthcare

At the Health IT Summit in San Francisco, sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2—a sister organization to Healthcare Informatics, under the umbrella of our mutual corporate parent, the Vendome Group LLC), attendees were able to listen to and participate in a vibrant discussion of data analytics on Wednesday morning, March 3, at the Hyatt Fisherman’s Wharf.

Shadaab Kanwal, executive director, Research & Quality, at the Oakland-based Kaiser Permanente, led a panel discussion entitled “Driving Organizational Excellence with Analytics.” Kanwal was joined by Michael Aratow, M.D., CMIO, San Mateo County Health System; Jonathan Palma, M.D., medical director of IS analytics, Stanford Children’s Health (Palo Alto, Calif.); David Kaelber, M.D., Ph.D., CMIO, MetroHealth System (Cleveland, Oh.); Kirk Larson, regional chief information officer, NetApp (Sunnyvale, Calif.); and Todd Bennett, director, healthcare market planning, LexisNexis (Dayton, Oh.).

panelists (l. to r.) Kanwal, Bennett, Palma, Aratow, Kaelber, Larson

Broad consensus was seen among panel members as to the length of the journey ahead, the obstacles involved, and the reality that the healthcare industry remains significantly behind other vertical industries in terms of its level of maturity in harnessing data and analytics to drive performance improvement. As MetroHealth’s Kaelber put it, “You have to have data, tools, people and processes, to make all this work. In healthcare, we’re just getting the data now, and maybe the tools. And in my own organization, we don’t have the people and processes to scale in place yet to really do this. So many people think of analytics as an end unto itself,” he added, “but analytics don’t deliver care, they only help people. We’re working on doubling our mammography rate, and to do that, we need the tools.”

Stanford Children’s Health’s Palma urged attendees to think about what kinds of internal partners informaticists can partner with, inside their patient care organizations, for collaborative early wins. “One important partner we have is our quality and safety department,” he noted. “When we partner with them around a defined set of goals, we can really make progress. We’re doing root cause analysis around hospital-acquired infections right now,” he reported. “Hopefully, that will lead to a change in the rates of infections.”

NetApp’s Larson, formerly a CIO, offered that, “A lot of times, people are taking a technology and looking for a problem to solve with it, when it really needs to be the reverse. And sometimes, they don’t know what they’re looking for,” he quickly added. “When I was CIO at Valley Children’s, I said, let’s first look at answering three to five key questions. And people were saying, oh, but we want to save the world! But you’d be amazed—when you focus on answering three to five key questions, you can make tremendous progress” in harnessing data to drive performance improvement and operational change.

Moderator Shadaab noted that “In the past, we’ve dealt with databases that were originally created primarily for research. Meanwhile, healthcare is still grappling with core cultural problems” around achieving consensus for analytics-driven change. How do we move from proprietary infrastructure to disease-specific databases,” for more agile data use? he asked his fellow discussants.

“In San Mateo, we’re beginning to make that transition now,” Aratow said. “The thing is that we all do use data in our daily lives, and even predictive analytics, like weather reports. And we always have our dashboards. Now we have to translate that” familiarity on the part of end-users in healthcare, with simple analytics in their daily lives, “into healthcare operations and clinical decision support.”

Stanford Children’s Health’s Palma opined that, “From where I sit in information services analytics, I see it as both an opportunity and a challenge; in terms of changing the culture around the use of data, that’s one of our responsibilities in informatics. I’d say we have a few pockets of reporting and analytics so far across Stanford Children’s Health,” he added. “And one opportunity is to help facilitate a data-driven culture.”

“Transformation happens at an organizational level. We have predictive, descriptive, and competitive analytics—all types of analytics, really. Have you employed any strategies to create competitive advantage via analytics development?” he asked panelists.

“It starts with a willingness to be totally transparent in sharing data, among healthcare providers, among payers—we’re all going to open our books and share data right now,” Kaelber said. “That’s a cultural transformation. And everyone has to agree on maybe 10 or 20 things to do” with data; it can’t be 100 or 200. We’re in a Medicare Shared Savings ACO [via the MetroHealth Care Partners ACO accountable care organization], and we’re trying to move towards building private payer ACOs as well,” he said. “This year is all about collecting and sharing data and trying to figure out what reasonable metrics we can get to in subsequent years.