• Putting the Intelligence Back in Business

    May 25, 2012

    By Todd NelsonTodd Nelson

    Providers need to move from data-collecting organizations to data-driven organizations.

    Healthcare organizations are awash in data and reports. But a spreadsheet is not necessarily synonymous with business intelligence. HFMA's Value Project defines business intelligence as the ability to collect, analyze, and connect accurate quality and financial data to support organizational decision making. The goal is to move beyond just generating reports and numbers-and turn data into actionable information that helps us move the dial on quality and cost.

    Three Prongs

    To get to true business intelligence, providers should adopt three strategies.

    An enterprisewide data strategy. Providers need to ensure the accurate and consistent calculation and reporting of data across the organization. For instance, Boston's Partners HealthCare has ensured uniformity in reporting. The organization's office of clinical affairs uses a three-color system-green, yellow, and red-for its quality dashboard to indicate whether the health system's facilities are above, at, or below performance goals. Information is arranged to allow easy comparison between Partners' facilities and against peer organizations.

    A clear line of sight. The alignment of systemwide goals with department-level and individual performance metrics helps keep an entire organization on track. Bellin Health System balances its systemwide scorecard across five categories: effectiveness, efficiency, engaging others, growth, and teamwork. A cross-functional, interdisciplinary leadership team works with brand and unit leaders to translate systemwide scorecard measures into metrics that cascade down to the individual goals of front-line staff.

    Information availability. Information should be available to inform front-line decision making, as close to real time as possible. At HFMA's recent Leadership Conference on Value, we heard several examples of how organizations are encouraging collaboration among clinical, financial, and operational leaders to improve value. Critical to these collaborations is easy access to needed business intelligence. For instance, financial and clinical leaders at Chicago's Rush University Health System are collaborating to coordinate the care of patients with specific clinical conditions or needs (e.g., patients needing bone marrow transplants). Using business intelligence, Rush staff were able to identify variation in practices, and then improved outcomes and reduced costs through standardization.

    An organization's ability to deliver timely data will be driven largely by the degree to which data collection and analysis can be automated. For example, Rush was able to hardwire standardized practices into its electronic health record so staff could reference the guidelines at the point of care. In addition, Rush is able to analyze the impact of the initiative from a clinical and financial perspective by tracking cost and quality metrics.

    A Closing Thought

    Although following these strategies will get you a long way toward your destination, we must not lose focus. To create truly intelligent hospitals and health systems, we must do more than invest in technology. We also need to ensure that our staff are prepared to deliver on the service that our patients and their families expect. So let's put the intelligence back in business intelligence. We must remember that templates and numbers and safety alerts are important, but at the end of the day, we are people serving people.

    Todd Nelson is technical director for senior financial executives/accounting, HFMA, and a former hospital CFO (tnelson@hfma.org).