Revisiting Analytics – Community Hospital Edition

July 29, 2016 Steve West

By Steve West
Solutions Director – Financial Management, Streamline Health, Inc.

The standalone community hospital is increasingly a rare breed across the U.S. While often the primary—if not only— source of acute care for their communities, these independent organizations are under unprecedented financial and operational pressure. As closures and acquisitions continue to take their toll, community hospital executives must find ways to adjust to the new realities of healthcare. Like most problems, analytics can be key to solving them.

For any provider organization, analytics are crucial, but the devil is in the details. Currently, many organizations use analytics to inform the strategic objective, optimize the tactical game plan, and measure the success of the work completed. This represents a huge shift from the role analytics played as recently as a few years ago. However, change is needed in order to successfully adapt and survive.

As community hospitals look to leverage and integrate analytics across their organizations, they will likely experience challenges and resistance that manifests in two key areas: the desire for organization-wide transparency and increased trust in the data.

With regards to transparency: an important element to consider prior to setting up any sort of analytics or reporting infrastructure is: who are the key stakeholders pushing for the changes in data utilization? Many times, those seeking new reports or insights are the newest members of the executive team (usually with previous experience at larger organizations) while many of the existing execs are content with the existing processes and the insight they generate. The status quo may not be ideal, but inertia is a powerful force to overcome.

Regardless of the analytics solution or methodology you pick, a culture shift will be necessary to get all participants on board. If not, then the efforts behind the new analyses will likely be transactional—a series of static responses that provide data as requested but unlikely to support the ongoing, dynamic process of change. To truly push the envelope and gain the insight to drive improvements, it’s essential for organization-wide buy-in regarding what metrics should be used to identify and measure success. Beginning with the project kickoff, actively engaging all stakeholders for feedback and approval will help ensure you’re all on the same page and working towards a common goal.

The second key to success in analytics is building a level of trust around the data and the need to leverage it going forward. When confronted with new information, smaller organizations are more likely to fall back on anecdotal pushback to explain deficiencies. Physicians will assert that their patients are sicker. Business office analysts will contend that their collection efficiency is higher than the data shows. Everyone has reservations when looking at their data the first time, especially when a new approach to analysis puts in a new, unflattering light.  The key to moving beyond this trepidation is responding as close to “in the moment” as possible. When it takes two weeks to validate or invalidate pushback—regardless of whether the data is right or wrong—you’ve lost the urgency and the opportunity to explore and pursue possible solutions. When this happens, you won’t bring about positive change; you’ll merely validate the failure of the current approach while also hampering any future attempts to improve it.

Change is hard on any organization, but adapting to new conditions is crucial to survival. If community hospitals can avoid the pitfalls commonly experienced when considering new analytics, they can identify opportunities to improve their clinical and financial performance. Then they can return their focus to their mission of keeping their communities healthy and happy.

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