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More Data Please

May 6, 2016
by Doug Erich, senior advisor with Impact Advisors, LLC
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“Yes, these reports are nice but how can I drill down to see the data?” 

We are about six weeks out from our recent electronic health record (EHR) go-live and things are going fairly smoothly. I share responsibility with my client reporting manager peer on rolling out reporting and analytics capabilities as part of that implementation. We’ve deployed several hundred reports and dashboards across many operational and clinical areas and the feedback thus far has been positive.  The executives and senior leaders we support have been receptive and collaborative. They have huge responsibilities and expect more information from this new EHR to help them take better care of their patients, run their operations and lead their teams.  As I talk with various leaders on how their reports and dashboards are working, their message is usually consistent—yes, these reports and dashboards are great, but how do I drill down into the data? 

Doug Erich

The question for more data is clearly a legitimate one. As we think about the mobile applications we use on our phones or tablets, many of them have drillable capabilities—why did a group of consumers rate a product so high, why did the trendy new restaurant only receive two stars, or why is new pair of running shoes with the low price ranked highly? I venture to guess that many of us have certain perceptions or expectations on how a particular product or restaurant should rate, as well as how a certain area of our business should perform.  Seeing a number that is in line with our expectations may not require us to do any further investigation or give that measure another thought.

However, when that measure is contrary to what we expect, then we feel the need to do a little further digging.  There may be multiple reasons to dig—we are held accountable for a specific metric as an indicator of our team’s performance, we have customers who are rating the service we provide, or we are responsible for monitoring certain measures so we can take appropriate action. Regardless of the reason, providing that additional level of detail helps the leader to have further clarity and confidence in the data and to either be satisfied with the information or to more research. 

Many of us can relate to a simple example with our checking account or credit card balance. As the monthly statement becomes available, we may look at the amount of money spent and have the reaction that the amount is surprisingly high. Somewhat in disbelief, you want to further get into the details of what made up that big number—you want to look at specific dates and amounts of purchase.  As you are able to get to that information, you realize that yes, maybe you did spend that amount of money and didn’t realize the number was that large.  Some of the purchases you had forgotten about now come back as you look at the specifics.  The additional data validated your expectation. So as an informed leader in your organization when opportunities and needs arise to use more information, work with your IT colleagues to ensure not only that summary and high-level metrics you need, but also insist you and your team have the needed levels detailed data to answer your potential questions. 

Some in the industry call this capability advanced analytics. This growing area of analytics not only involves being able to drill down from a very broad set of numbers or metrics and being able to get to what specific items that make up numerator or denominator, but also supports the ability to pull related pieces of information.  For example, if you are trying to understand a particularly high blood pressure rate that is evident in your employee health program, you may want to look at the specific risks factors that are common across those employees. Or if your patient portal is not generating the traffic you expected, having the data to drill down into the demographics of those users that are using the portal and determining the population that is not.  You might consider the following questions to evaluate if you are receiving the right information to make good decisions:

  • Identify or refine those key measures to focus on to run your business
  • Work with your IT colleagues to develop consistent definitions of those metrics
  • Work with your IT colleagues to develop timelines and availability for that information to support those metrics
  • Incorporate baseline information from other organizations where possible to understand how you are progressing amongst your peers
  • Work with your IT colleagues to develop refined reporting capabilities to understand areas of shortcoming or to better understand potential growth areas

Developing and maintaining the information you need to run your business is a collaborative and iterative process and can produce helpful results when working together with your IT partners to produce the results you need.

Doug Erich is a senior advisor with Impact Advisors, LLC, a healthcare IT consulting firm, and has nearly 25 years of electronic health record, reporting and analytics implementation and support experience.