In the Air Force, we have a saying: If you're catching flak, you know you're over the target."
Lieutenant Colonel Jerome Hyzy is not referring to actual military action but to responses the Air Force Surgeon General's office has received to an innovative rapid-response patient survey system he helped create.
The Air Force Military Service, which has 75 operating locations around the world and an annual operating budget of $7 billion, had been using traditional mail-based patient satisfaction surveys, but regional officials complained that by the time they saw the data, too much time had expired for it to be actionable. Hyzy, who heads a staff of eight in the data modeling and analysis group, decided to find a way to get those results to local officials within a week.
In 2004 his team developed an application that samples appointments from AFMS' 2.6 million beneficiaries around the globe the day they happen. They hired a network of callers to do brief interviews with patients shortly after their appointment and then key-in and e-mail results. Hyzy's office then pushes reports based on those results to regional officials.
"Local execs are able to design their own 'wild card' questions to get at specific issues such as what patients think about the use of robotics in the pharmacy," says Hyzy, who joined the Air Force 22 years ago as an operating room technician. He went on to get an MBA from Auburn University (Alabama) and later moved into healthcare administration.
One example of the system's effectiveness involved the resolution of callers' questions. "We started hearing from patients that they were being put on hold too much as they moved around the phone system," he says. "This survey system brought awareness to that process so we could minimize the cycle time."
Hyzy sees his team's mission as centrally organizing and managing data to create a strategic advantage. They identify data sets, engineer ways to move data back and forth rapidly, and create thin-client applications that allow AFMS officials to measure and improve performance.
Using SQL and Cold Fusion and data visualization software such as ProClarity (Boise, Idaho) and ChartFX (Boca Raton, Fla.), the software engineers create customized Web applications to manipulate data and present it visually. For instance, they created an application that improves patient scheduling efficiency. "Our standardized appointing system is very vanilla, without tools to help manage the process," Hyzy says. "We saw a need to centralize that appointment data and create reports that help practice managers see the mix of appointments."
They created views of the data that allow practice managers to more efficiently schedule their appointment mix, both seasonally and day to day. The Access Improvement Module identifies trends in appointment supply and demand much the way a retailer can use data to see trends in stocking shelves.
Hyzy says his group has measured a 13 percent efficiency improvement since the module was rolled out three years ago, a dramatic savings in man-hours.
Hyzy enjoys the challenges brought about by the rapid pace of change in healthcare informatics. "It begs for someone to visualize tools that will help," he adds. "The key is being able to recognize the need and bring those tools to life by working hand in hand with people in the field."
He draws the greatest satisfaction from seeing the tangible results of his team's work. "When you go out in the field and see it on the desktops, that's when you know you're having an impact," he says. "The ultimate is when you see active-duty soldiers or their wives and kids in the waiting room, and you know you've helped improve efficiency — that's the best."
David Raths is a contributing writer based in Portland, Maine.