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How Can Clinical Staff Become More Data-Driven?


A new survey suggests health systems aren’t using analytics for purely clinical purposes.

Some of the biggest buzzwords in healthcare technology — such as “artificial intelligence,” “machine learning” and “population health” — center around the need to use data in a smarter way in order to improve the care of patients at individual and more global levels.

While hospitals and health systems have implemented multimillion-dollar electronic health record (EHR) systems and various analytics solutions, have they been able to see clinical value from this technology? Can doctors and nurses make better decisions based on new data insights afforded to them?

HIMSS Analytics and Dimensional Insight recently released a survey that shows clinicians are less able to drive decisions through the use of data than other hospital executives. Furthermore, purely clinical analytical projects are not a top focus area for many hospitals and health systems.

Let’s take a closer look by examining the survey results, some potential reasons behind the numbers and what healthcare organizations should consider to improve the data literacy of its clinicians.

Survey Says: Purely Clinical Projects Not a Priority

For the survey, HIMSS Analytics surveyed 110 senior healthcare leaders about how they and their organizations use data and analytics. The survey found that most hospitals are using analytics in financial, operational and clinical areas. However, it also found that clinical projects that use data primarily to improve patient care were not a top priority for most organizations.

Here are some of the numbers:

  • 90% of survey respondents reported using analytics in clinical areas.
  • Only 28.4% of respondents are using analytics for effectiveness of care projects, 21.6% are using for population health and 10.8% are using for chronic care management.
  • More popular projects for healthcare organizations are financial measures (58.1%), care quality measures (56.8%) and patient safety (32.4%).
  • Among healthcare organizations that have not yet deployed analytics but plan to do so, only 31.8% say population health will be a top focus area. Meanwhile, 59.1% of these organizations say effectiveness of care will be a top focus area.

The survey also asked healthcare leaders to rate different categories of staff members on their ability to drive decisions through their use of analytics. The leaders rated clinical staff (physicians and nurses) the lowest among five categories of stakeholders.

  • On a scale of 1 to 7 (1=extremely low, 7=extremely high), the average score of stakeholders to drive decisions through analytics was a 5.17.
  • On that scale, healthcare leaders rated clinical staff a 4.39 (15.1% lower than the average).
  • On the same scale, hospital C-Suite/executives were rated a 5.63 (8.9% higher than the average) and department heads were rated a 5.32 (2.9% higher than the average).

Potential Reasons Behind the Results

Kathy Sucich, Dimensional Insight

Kathy Sucich, Dimensional Insight

The survey results indicate that business users are better able to make data-driven decisions than clinical users. That could be a reason as to why the projects that healthcare organizations seem to embrace — even if they use clinical data — are more financially or quality-driven as opposed to provider-driven.

Intuitively, this makes some sense. Business executives in healthcare organizations are more used to reporting on various numbers, such as costs, revenues and quality metrics.

Moreover, physicians and nurses are already stretched thin. A 2017 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine suggests that primary care physicians spend nearly two hours on their EHR for every one hour of direct patient care. Now adding in supplementary technology creates a burden for clinicians. Given this, how can healthcare organizations move the needle on clinical projects?

How Healthcare Organizations Can Make Better Use of Clinical Data

Despite the challenges, healthcare organizations can extract more value from their clinical data to make improvements that directly benefit the patient. Here are a few things hospitals and health systems can consider.

  • Integrate analytics into the workflow. In order to effectively use analytics, clinicians need access to data in a way that is a part of their daily workflow and is also incredibly simple to use. This means providing clinician-specific views of data relevant to each specific doctor or nurse. With clinicians already spread thin, it’s critical to provide analytics that are intuitive and accessible.
  • Find the data champions. Within every organization or department, there are certain people who just have a greater literacy with data. These are excellent people to champion certain projects and get them off the ground. Once colleagues see success with data projects, it’s easier to get them on board as well.
  • Tie projects to a health system’s strategic plan. Data projects will be more successful when everyone throughout the organization can see the value. That often comes by thinking about the organization’s strategic plan. Are there certain initiatives most critical to the health system in the next five or 10 years? Those are the ones to focus in on by examining the data and seeing where you can make improvements.

Kathy Sucich is director of healthcare marketing at Dimensional Insight, a six-time Best in KLAS winner in healthcare business intelligence and analytics. You can follow Dimensional Insight on Twitter @DI_tweet or on LinkedIn.

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