By Balu Nair | January 8, 2019
Original Article

The data revolution is here, but many healthcare leaders have yet to grasp a key lesson. Data is only as valuable as the decisions and changes it informs. In this guest post Balu Nair, CTO of a healthcare analytics solutions company, reveals mistakes hospitals are making and what they need to do to flourish.


For all the daunting questions facing health care, data holds the answer – or at least that’s the assumption driving many executives investing heavily in data systems and solutions.

And it’s true, or at least it can be. Data has the potential to improve care, drive down costs and allow hospitals to predict and prevent medical problems in ways that will radically transform the patient-doctor relationship.

But before physicians and executives can build the data-driven hospitals of the future, they need to figure out how to use all this new information at their fingertips.

In the race to realize the potential of the data revolution, hospitals have created systems that collect data on everything a patient does (and everything done to them) from the moment they are admitted to when they’re discharged, and each visit after that.

Plethora of data

These are incredibly powerful tools. But here’s what hospital executives are coming to realize: They have more data than they know what to do with. All this information is only as powerful as the hospital’s ability to see trends, extract meaning, recognize inefficiencies and quickly implement changes that improve care.

Hospitals need to focus their efforts and resources on generating relevant and actionable insights from all the data they collect. They need to learn how to integrate those insights into operations and act upon it in the same way that cutting-edge companies in other industries have.

This requires a fundamental rethinking of how healthcare systems have operated for decades. It means prioritizing agility and change in organizations that are often resistant to both. It means reaching outside hospital walls to expand capacity. It means finding good partners.

Managing data is difficult, especially in organizations with dozens of departments, hundreds of doctors and thousands of patients coming and going every day, each with an entirely unique medical history and life circumstances.

In many cases, the struggle to keep up with all the information leads to each department developing its own point solutions and storing data about different functions in different places, making it almost impossible to bring it all together and tap into the potential of data analytics.

This is problematic for a couple reasons. First, it’s a waste of resources and investment. Second, it can perpetuate a cycle of hospitals trying to adjust their clinical care practices to suit the latest (expensive) technology, rather than vice versa.

Quadruple aim

The challenge is creating data systems that can facilitate the sort of change that medical experts have been calling for, and that payors and the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) are increasingly incentivizing. “Quadruple aim” of improving patient experience and population health while reducing per capita cost of care and ensuring provider wellbeing requires process and behavior change enabled by insights.

Most providers are moving in the direction of achieving quadruple aim goals, but the progress has been slow and challenging due to the lack of timely insights to drive the process and behavior changes. When hospitals can’t properly monitor or show the changes that are taking place, the opportunity cost is immense.

Slow progress and costs have caused frustration in hospital executives. And yet too often these frustrations cause hospital leaders to double down on the inefficient strategy they pursued in the first place, trying to assemble an in-house team to design technology and develop solutions to fix the problem.

Hospitals shouldn’t be focused on designing and managing technology systems. They should be focused on supporting clinicians in delivering the best care possible. It’s a lesson that hospitals learned years ago when they started outsourcing management of their real estate.

Narrow focus

So why not seek help from solution architects and experts in implementing data analytics and enhancing process/workflow with insights generated by analytics?

It can seem counterintuitive for hospitals to narrow their focus during a time when the possibilities in health care seem to be rapidly expanding. But step outside of health care into other industries that have been disrupted, and it’s clearly the way forward.

Corporations that fail to keep a narrow focus, or try to control all aspects of their industry, end up sacrificing quality in their core competency and become too slow to compete with their smaller and interconnected competitors.

Healthcare systems that structure themselves around physicians – and create a network of partners who can rapidly adapt to their needs – will lead us into the future. The data, and insight-driven decisions and changes it informs will simply help them down the path.

Balu Nair is CTO of Gray Matter Analytics, a healthcare analytics solutions company.