Steve Meurer is a data scientist and a road warrior. Over the last 12 months, Vizient’s executive principal of data science and member insights has traveled to more than 100 member hospitals nationwide. His primary purpose is to help hospital physician and quality leaders leverage the performance improvement analytics that are available to them.

But Meurer also wants to come away with a deeper understanding of where members are in their analytics journey. “In spite of vast amounts of data now available, the American health care system has not improved as much as we would like. I believe that is largely due to how analytics is structured and used in hospitals. I want to better understand what may be holding them back.”

Based on observations and interactions with member organizations, Meurer has identified three areas that are likely impacting the advancement of quality improvements, which a highly functioning clinical analytics platform can drive.

Think beyond IT when defining analytics

Analytics is more than IT alone, and that is creating a growing knowledge gap in the American health care system. “I think the gap is expanding because, in most hospitals, the terms “analytics” and “data” are not associated with the quality department but with the information technology department,” Meurer said. “I see IT as a support department for hospitals’ analytic tools. Analytics involves deeper analysis of information to answer the question “why,” which is done by people, not tools. Too many health care organizations focus their analytics journey on finding the right tool, which has resulted in most hospitals having duplicative data platforms.”

One member organization addressed the knowledge gap by dividing analytics into three groups: One group consists of engineers. Engineers are the IT professionals who build and support analytic tools. The second group is made up of statisticians who use data and analytic tools to develop research studies for publication. The third group is comprised of data scientists. Data scientists apply their knowledge of the health care environment and understanding of variation to uncover new insights—the answers to “why”—and then they use those insights to educate the organization and motivate changes that lead to improvement.

Cultivate data scientists from within

Where do hospitals find data scientists? Many of them are already hospital employees with the title of data analysts. “Data scientists, who may have started as analysts, are individuals who combine a certain level of health care experience with the endless curiosity of an investigative reporter to turn information into insights,” Meurer said. “Data scientists do not need to be clinicians. In many cases, clinicians are not the best fit for these positions because data and analytics were not primary to their education, nor are they likely to be their passion.”

To illustrate this point, Meurer describes the natural response of a data scientist to a red dot on a performance dashboard. “A data scientist will see the red dot and wonder about the reasons and rationales for why it’s red,” Meurer said. “They will drill down into the information to get answers, and they will also go on the floor and talk to the staff. They are the ones who gather clues and put the puzzle together for the rest of the team.”

Eliminate redundancy in departments and efforts

When a hospital isn’t getting the desired level of improvements within its current structure, leaders will often establish a separate group to focus on a particular issue. But this creates redundancies in quality that can lead to ineffectiveness. Additionally, staff may not know where to go when questions arise.

“To avoid redundancy, I support data analysts, data scientists and quality experts coming together into one, centralized structure,” Meurer said. “Rather than the quality department driving change in only quality and safety metrics, it should be focused on driving improvement in all aspects, including finance and operations. Quality is the department that should be taking data from raw information to insights, and sharing those insights with everyone from clinicians and supply chain leaders to motivate change. The quality department is also the group that helps the organization through change, and then monitors to ensure that the improvements are sustained.”

Similar redundancies are evident in the development of hospital dashboards. “There are around 5,000 hospitals in the United States, and there are around 5,000 dashboards,” Meurer said. “Hospitals most often ask me, ‘What do other hospitals’ dashboards look like?’ I tell them, ‘They look a lot like yours!’ ”

Hospitals could generate significant savings and accelerated improvement through strategic partnerships that supply dashboards. They could then use their resources to turn the information into actionable insights to motivate change. Most hospitals are skipping this step of drilling into opportunities. When that occurs, physicians and hospital leaders are making assumptions based on the dashboards, which most often lead to no change or to changes that are wrong or unnecessary.

“The miles I’ve logged this past year are an investment in improved health care delivery, and that improvement is at our members’ fingertips,” Meurer said. “They have access to unprecedented tools that can transform one-dimensional information into multidimensional insights. And it’s only from insights that decision-makers can arrive at sound decisions that lead to accurate, appropriate changes within an organization. To leverage the power of analytics, hospitals must turn their attention away from the tool and more toward the people.”

To learn more about how to build an effective clinical analytics program, check out our webinar where Steve, along with our supply and implementation experts, examine industry challenges and demonstrate how data transparency is the most powerful driver in performance improvement.

Published: June 19, 2018