A research highlight that delves into key takeaways from a May 2018 HFMA member survey about the use of data analytics in the revenue cycle.
Data Analytics and the Revenue Cycle
A smoothly running revenue cycle is critical to a healthcare organization's long-term performance. High-functioning departments reliably follow processes and procedures, anticipate and mitigate problems, and catch errors quickly before they escalate into larger issues. To consistently accomplish these tasks, many healthcare organizations turn to data analytics software because these tools have the potential to more rapidly and accurately gauge current performance, pinpoint opportunities, and drive improvement.
To learn more about healthcare organizations' use of data analytics in the revenue cycle, the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) reached out to a group of members to gather their opinions. The survey took place over two weeks in May 2018 and involved 148 hospital and health system executives, directors, and specialists. This HFMA Research Highlight, sponsored by MedeAnalytics, discusses key takeaways from the survey.
Use of multiple revenue cycle analytics solutions is the norm
Nearly all survey respondents, which is to say 95 percent, use some form of data analytics within the revenue cycle, with 73 percent employing multiple solutions. There are a number of possible reasons why an organization might have more than one application in place.
"Analytics solutions have developed over time as needs for them have expanded," says Sandra Wolfskill, director of healthcare finance policy and revenue cycle MAP for HFMA. "As regulatory changes have unfolded and priorities have shifted, organizations have looked for systems to address particular needs. When goals have evolved, there has sometimes been the impetus to seek out a new system. However, legacy products can be difficult to sunset, and when the organization does not have a way to integrate data from various tools—such as via a data warehouse—then it is left with multiple programs that are pulling data from disparate sources."
The current mergers and acquisition environment also may play a role. "As health systems onboard new entities, they often must consolidate technology, and there can be legacy solutions and processes that remain," says Tom Schaal, director of product management for MedeAnalytics. "If organizations don't have a strategy for integrating solutions or replacing them, then they can be left with a difficult dynamic of multiple programs that don't effectively share information."
Those providers with a single source solution tend to be more satisfied
Just over 10 percent of survey respondents use a single-source revenue cycle analytics solution. Provider satisfaction goes up considerably in these cases. Although 58 percent of respondents with multiple tools are pleased with the results they are getting from their investments, 80 percent of those with a single source solution are happy.
"Trust in data is a big factor, and organizations that invest in one analytics solution can generate more uniformity across the organization, engendering a high degree of trust in the data coming from the system," says Schaal. "This fosters a culture of transparency and accountability in which the data is accepted and valued by everyone within the organization. In addition, there are operational benefits to this approach. From a usability, training, and logistics standpoint, having a single platform with which users are familiar and on which they can be easily trained, can facilitate engagement and buy in, making it easier to embed use of the solution into daily operations."
Data analytics tools have several shortcomings
Although the majority of respondents value data analytics tools, a number of participants note some deficiencies within the solutions. For example, nearly 40 percent of respondents indicate that a lack of access to data is a significant shortcoming, and a quarter felt their data is too disparate.
One way to address these concerns is to create a data warehouse. "This approach allows organizations to store data in well-defined formats, which can be accessed easily by revenue cycle analysts for use in turning data into information," says Wolfskill. "By creating this single source of truth, users are less likely to challenge the data as compared to analytics coming from multiple sources that are not integrated."
Even if an organization pursues a data warehousing strategy, it may still have data issues if the analytics tools it is integrating do not generate meaningful information. "Organizations must do their research before onboarding any solution to make sure it has a proven track record," says Schaal. "There are vendors with wide and deep expertise in different areas, and it is essential to work with companies that ensure the data you collect is usable and valuable."
The need for data analytics will continue to grow
The survey reveals a universal perspective that data analytics will play an ever-increasing role in the healthcare revenue cycle, especially as organizations pursue value-based care. Most respondents see data analytics as an important investment area, and something they're working to augment and consolidate going forward.
"To get the most out of analytics, organizations must recognize a few fundamental truths," says Wolfskill. "First and foremost, not all data is of equal value. As such, an initial step in using these tools is to determine what data is important and develop a strategy around effectively capturing that. Next, you should create dashboards to clearly communicate the data and turn it into actionable information staff can use to drive performance. Without a strategy for how you're going to use the data, the effort devolves into merely a data collection exercise, which will not help advance the organization's performance."
Creating a data-driven culture in which the use of analytics becomes the norm requires a commitment from leadership. "Senior leaders must incorporate data analytics into their strategic visions and be sure that the idea of using data to improve performance permeates the entire enterprise," says Schaal. "By doing this, organizations can breathe life into an analytics exercise and lay the groundwork for meaningful and measurable results. In addition to strong leadership, organizations must also work with vendors that are committed to furthering the use of analytics. Whether you use multiple vendors or engage with one, those entities must be passionate about growing their analytics function over time, embracing new ideas, making advancements, and committing to meeting the needs of the future."
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