Dan Pelino

When Google announced in March that it was testing a new website on which patients could store their personal health records online, the company was following in the footsteps of many U.S. hospitals, which began implementing electronic health record (EHR) solutions 10 years ago.

Almost 40 percent of hospitals now have the basics of an EHR system in place, according to market research firm Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) Analytics. A decade of EHR use has given some hospitals mountains of patient data, but this sheer volume forces an unavoidable question: Is all this information teaching us anything about improving outcomes or being more efficient?

If hospitals cannot easily answer this question, they are at risk of spending tens of millions of dollars on systems that make them data rich and information poor.

Hospital administrators and clinicians want to know how they can make the delivery of patient care more effective and efficient. CFOs want to improve financial performance. Communities, governments, and health insurance companies are asking how to improve the health of specific populations and predict health events. Physicians want to keep up on best practices and assess new trends, such as predictive and evidence-based care. Researchers want to conduct more advanced genomics-based clinical research and relate clinical information to genomic data. And patients seek answers on what they should be doing to stay healthy. Patients want to be treated by the best providers and to have their health information accessible to them and designated providers.

Advances in computing technology, such as services oriented architecture (SOA), information management, and supercomputing, have made it possible to evolve from data collection to data analytics, solving key challenges faced by the healthcare industry. For example, one suite of IT services, infrastructure, and tools harnesses the power of the massive volumes of information generated by today's healthcare industry and then converts it into data-driven intelligence. This rich source of clinical and business insight can bring strategic differentiation to health systems by giving providers unprecedented knowledge about their operations, patients, and, effectively, all aspects of their businesses.

Other Industries Embrace Analytics

Analytics have already taken off outside of the healthcare industry. A major insurance group wanted to uncover statistically valid risk groups among its auto insurance policyholders to improve its premium pricing, underwriting rules, and new business development. Working with IT specialists, the company assembled a data warehouse that stored four years of 300 historical factors on 2 million policyholders. A new predictive modeling technology was optimized to discover similar risk groups among the data. Of the 43 statistically significant new rules that were generated, a benefits analysis of just six of these suggested that data analytics could yield $2 million in increased profit for the company.

A Canadian airline used data analytics to solve a problem common across the airline industry: predicting no-shows, an essential input to revenue-management systems. Teaming with an IT company, the airline built two different predictive models using passenger-based features extracted from over 1 million passenger records. After evaluating the results, the airline concluded that the passenger-based data analytic models were more accurate than conventional history-based statistical models, and had the potential to increase revenues by up to 3.2 percent compared with compared with traditional models

Growing Pressures

The global healthcare industry faces growing pressures that can benefit significantly from data analytics:

  • More informed consumers
  • Increase in aging and overweight populations
  • Rising costs and new reimbursement models
  • Prevalence of chronic disease
  • Requirement to publicly report quality and clinical outcomes

The headlines make it clear that these pressures are not future-state: "Medicare Says It Won't Cover Hospital Errors," "Hospitals Must Report Patient-Satisfaction Data or Face a Financial Hit," "Hospitals Blitz Airwaves with Ad Campaigns-Stiff Competition as Consumers Gain More Say in Care."

To meet these challenges, healthcare organizations must be able to convert their volumes of patient and clinical data into intelligent, transformative information. Current strategies for reporting and trending data are labor-intensive and inefficient. In fact, one organization estimates that it spends $4 million to $5 million annually on resources to provide basic external reporting.

Simply dropping all available data into a database and providing access to it is not the answer. Without careful planning and a well-defined data management, modeling, and architecture supported by a robust infrastructure, the data will be difficult to access and ineffective at meeting current and future challenges.

A Competitive Edge for Healthcare Providers

Transforming information requires a unified, simplified, and streamlined "intelligent" environment that supports health analytics. Health systems can meet their business goals and become more competitive by leveraging their data-rich environments-even where disparate systems exist-transforming data into intelligent, high-value clinical, business, and research information.

The benefits of a properly implemented enterprise health analytics solution are numerous:

  • Efficient reporting, trending, and analysis of key organizational, financial, and clinical metrics to improve reporting compliance, participate competitively in pay-for-performance programs, and drive performance improvement
  • Access to information to manage and report the progression and impact of chronic diseases such as diabetes or stroke within a system, region, or market
  • Prediction of high-risk populations and the beginning of early interventions for wellness management
  • Ability to view and analyze aggregated, specific data sets by specific populations for cohort management, disease registries, clinical guidelines, and patient safety
  • Foundation for evidence-based medicine, leading to the practice of personalized medicine 

Over the past two decades, the healthcare industry has been pummeled by an explosion of data and complexity. Health analytics enable today's healthcare providers to take their mountains of data and convert them into insights that meet the growing demand for public reporting of quality, clinical outcomes, cost of care, and standards compliance. It is no miracle cure, but it is the most promising approach available today, combining the use of data with the emergence of
the next generation of Internet-scale computing as a potent means of helping to transform health care.


Dan Pelino is general manager, Global Healthcare & Life Sciences Industry, IBM Corporation, Oak Brook, Ill.

Publication Date: Monday, September 01, 2008

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