Mysteries to Solve in a World of Analytics

At the heart of any data set lies a mystery, often hidden in right in front of us, waiting for us to seek it. Our eyes, not yet adjusted in the darkness, strain to see the outlines of the insights the data set yearns to yield to us. We struggle, in the dark, early morning hours of our analytical age, to make out the patterns in the data set that can solve some of the mysteries we have about our patients, about ourselves. How to make us healthier. How to make us smarter about our care decisions. How to make us confront hard questions about life and death, and our relentless pursuit, at seemingly all costs, of the former in light of the latter. It is all right there in the data set, we tell ourselves, all in front of us, waiting for the fresh light of dawn to clear our vision. “The true mystery,” Oscar Wilde tells us in The Picture of Dorian Gray.“The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.” Sounds to me like Wilde was an early proponent for data analytics.

It's Never Too Late To Get Started With Data

Kyle Johnson, system vice president and CIO at Eastern Maine HealthCare, has spent almost the past 20 years advocating for using data analytics to drive evidence-based operational and clinical decisionmaking. Spending her career at the cutting edge of our analytical age, Kyle has learned that it is never too late to get started analyzing your organization’s clinical, operational, or financial data, no matter what type of care setting you practice in. She encouraged every care provider to take the important first step towards analytics during a recent STEPS to Value episode:

“Get started. I don’t think there is any right or wrong place to start. The data journey is not an easy one and you know, actually, less of it has to do with the technology, and a lot more of it has to do with actually the data itself. Understanding the data, understanding operational processes and uses for the data. Because that is the only real way to validate it and make sure that you have accuracy around what you are trying to manage. So there is a whole lot of people, process, culture involved with data management, and it is not too early for every organization to get started on that front. It is a whole new culture shift and paradigm for healthcare organizations.”

How Analytics Drive Change Management

Kyle described Eastern Maine Healthcare’s experience integrating data analytics into their operational methodology and the changes the organization implanted, supported by the use of clinical and business intelligence.

“Some of the first reports and analysis we have done on the population health side (produced) understanding to allow behavior changes to occur. (This analysis included) where your costs are occurring, (how) your high utilization tests and procedures producing data and information that allows an organization to understand where those tests are occurring, and which providers are ordering those tests.. So, if we want fewer of those tests or we want better sharing of information so other providers downstream that might see the same patient don’t repeat tests, how do we impact the behaviors that we want to impact through the use of analytics? It’s very powerful, in fact, I think it is the key to changing the healthcare industry. I think we can’t do it without a strong data analytics sense, because it is really the data that is going drive and power the change.”

Why We Are All In The Business Of Solving Mysteries

Healthcare is not the only industry where change is driven when participants try to answer the question “Why.” In Roger Martin’s “The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage,” the Rotman School of Management professor describes why successful organizations often “stand apart in their willingness to engage in the task of continuously redesigning their business.”

He describes how organizations work to drive innovations and efficiencies in their actions through what he terms “a knowledge funnel.” Martin’s knowledge funnel starts with an “exploration of a mystery.” That exploration and the insights it yields then leads into a “heuristic, a rule of thumb that helps narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size.” The final steps in the knowledge funnel focus on “working towards an algorithm, or a fixed formula” to respond to the answers an organization has created in response to that foundational mystery.

Martin uses the example of McDonald’s to illustrate his knowledge funnel in action. McDonald’s started with a mystery founder Ray Kroc hoped to solve. Travelling the newly finished interstate highway system hawking food-service equipment, Kroc wondered “how and what do Americans want to eat on the go?” The rule of thumb, or heuristic, he answered that mystery with,“Americans want a quick, convenient, tasty meal.”

With that in place, Kroc and McDonald’s then systematically worked to refine that rule of thumb into a systematic formula that could be replicated throughout McDonald’s global chain of restaurants. Those billions of dollars in revenue generated start from that mystery that Ray Kroc could no longer ignore, as he drove across America and came upon a San Bernardino drive-up burger joint opened in 1940 by two brothers by the name of McDonald.

What Mysteries Do You Want To Solve?

The 2017 HIMSS Pop Health Forum takes place this April 3rd and 4th, and is a great opportunity to hear from healthcare organizations that have begun their “data journey” that Kyle speaks about. Make sure you make it to the presentation from Kamal Jethwani, senior director of connected health innovation, Partners Healthcare Center For Connected Health. Kamal will speak about how Partners HealthCare targeted patients through the use of a predictive analytics engine who where considered to be in the mid-level of the acuity pyramid, a construct for demonstrating the value of the new solution in the context of pre-acute and post-acute chronic care management.. These patients, who accounted for 57% of total healthcare related costs in FY 2015, where demonstrated to have the highest potential for cost increase in order to confirm the efficiency of using prevention as a strategy to avoid hospital admissions. Experts from Lehigh Valley Health Network, Covenant Health, and more will share their own tales of mysteries solved.

We are only at the opening stages of the analytical age. The technology is here. Is your organization? Are you? The most important question is what mysteries are you ready to solve. And in light of inaction, what mysteries are you content with leaving in the dark?

health IT; data; patients
Media Contact: 
Adam Bazer, senior manager, health information systems