The COVID-19 pandemic is testing the healthcare industry’s progress on Big Data management and strategy.  The known benefits of the data movement in healthcare are significant. Over the past decade, providers have expanded investments in population health management, and many have an enhanced understanding and care plan for patients with chronic diseases.

The migration to value-based care is accelerating, which requires providers acquire an institutional understanding of their data for cost containment strategies as well.   

Measurable progress has been made; however, the industry is barely scratching the surface. The unrealized potential is now under a bright spotlight.   

Locating the key to unlock data power

In terms of progress as an industry, healthcare is the equivalent to average major league baseball teams in the 1990s. Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game is a book by Michael Lewis and highlights how the Oakland Athletics revolutionized baseball by using data to make decisions on free agents and overall strategy.

Many franchises were slow to adapt to what is now considered a staple of proper organizational management. The popular movie Moneyball that followed the book provided unique (and perhaps dramatized) insight into why major league baseball was slow to adapt:

  • A culture of traditions, people in baseball take great pride in the game remaining unchanged.
  • Sabermetrics challenged the long-accepted principles of baseball scouting, threatening the livelihood of people who have earned their stripes and spent a lifetime making baseball their business.
  • One club achieving success did not erase what were accepted best practices with building an organization.

baseball data

The primary reasons for healthcare providers lagging behind other industries with data capability is not an unawareness of potential value.  Physicians seek contextually relevant and trustworthy medical information that offers insight into a patient’s medical history and current problems. Hospital CFOs and revenue cycle leaders also need and want relevant data to help manage the business side of patient care. 

Unlike baseball clubs 25 years ago, healthcare institutions want to unlock the potential data power. But the path forward is much more complex.   

Conquering data sharing roadblocks

One problem for providers are regulatory issues that serve as roadblocks for storing, sharing, and accessing patient data.  The very laws that protect our rights as citizens make it difficult to maximize the value of the information inside their claims.     

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Leveraging Data for the Nation’s Health report outlines a vision for inter-agency data sharing. It examines the challenges with data storage, access, security, and a lack of qualified resources to manage compliant data interoperability.  The very agencies that help create our laws face the same challenges as the organizations that provide our patient care.
The difference, providers have no way of improving regulation or the ability to print money. 

Average hospital profit margins have been in the single digits for many years in normal markets.  Given the strain on healthcare finances in the face of COVID-19, it may take months or years for many organizations to fully recover. Asking our providers to lead the way with data innovation for the benefit of public health is an unfair request.

Raising the curtain on data power

The good news is that many data issues have been solved through innovation.  Clinical and business intelligence platforms such as Tableau and Power BI provide the capability for the industry to advance. Interoperability software sits in the cloud and allows the ability to combine organizational data that can be leveraged to better service areas including clinical, supply chain, revenue cycle, finance, and much more.  

Unfortunately for hospitals, that will require capital as well as an investment into people who can leverage their data into useful information for proactive decision making.

At Harmony, we have the privilege of working with our clients to maximize the value of their institutional data. The realities that exist should not prevent the pursuit of data optimization.  The potential is enormous – even at the hospital level. The accomplishments by the best healthcare institutions on the planet are being seen by the world through the COVID-19 maps and dashboard breakdowns of populations that are infected. 

world data map

The accomplishments over the next 5 years should not be laid at the feet of our care providers alone.  We need private companies contributing. We need payers (now experiencing record profits) working with providers and not against them. Most importantly, we need a culture shift around the fear associated with sharing information in healthcare.  Fear leads to legislation, red tape and over regulation which is often driven by private business interests.

The potential exists. We can look to the 60 minutes episode highlighting BlueDot to see that. This Canadian company created an algorithm that acts as a digital early warning system for outbreaks of infectious disease. The episode gave us an eye-opening glimpse into early infection disease detection and the potential public safety benefits we can garner using data. It also leaves us with a sense of hope of all that is possible in the aftermath of COVID-19 and beyond. 

Looking ahead 

Pandemics have occurred throughout history and most likely will not end with COVID-19. Public health and safety related to infectious diseases starts with detection and early intervention. Ensuring our talented clinicians have access to useful health data to empower medical decisions is crucial. 

Ensuring our hospitals have data to make purchasing decisions, lower cost/waste, and continue to financially evolve is also imperative.  For the sake of the people and institutions on the front line, let’s hope the government and private industry navigate challenges to remove roadblocks and leverage data for public health.   

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