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Leveraging Business Intelligence in the CAH Setting

With the advent of big data, and health care reform driving organizations to be more efficient and cost effective, business intelligence has become an increasingly popular way to harness the power of data analytics and process improvement. Coupling business intelligence to process improvement helps organizations migrate towards operational intelligence setting the stage for change. Once the stage is set, effective change can happen.
Business intelligence is developing a process that transforms operational data into actionable information to help facilitate better decisions for front-line change. It helps staff become more intelligent about the data they are seeing and using. Most critical access hospital management and governing boards would agree that operational data is necessary in today’s environment. Getting to the next level of this discussion, however, is a bit more complicated. A conversation around motivation, innovation and collaboration may be helpful.
Finding the motivation to change
Most payer models are shifting towards rewarding value over volume. When management discusses a paradigm shift, the change to create a value model compared to volume is a massive shift; and, in some cases may become difficult for critical access hospitals to adjust. This is where the future of care (which is increasingly evolving to retail) will become a bigger challenge for health providers as consumers are offered more choices.
With many reasons to change and adjust how critical access hospitals deliver care, why does it seem so hard to find the motivation to change? One of the reasons may be the complexity of systems. Change one thing and it can have a domino effect that creates doubt and, in some minds, risk. “Can we do this? If we change this one area, it will change everything – I’m not sure we can handle that?” These can be some of the questions creating doubt.
The cause and effect of change has become so burdensome and expensive, that it has given staff pause on the motivational side of the equation. So how do organizations address this? Courage. They have to find the courage to forge ahead. If they look for it, they can find it right where they are. More importantly, when discovered, it reminds staff that what is needed is right in the backyard. Fear contributes to organizations losing sight of what can be harnessed to solve problems. However, gathering information from organizational support systems, rallying staff and those in the community that they serve, can help shift attitudes to embrace change and overcome challenges.
The second thought to consider is how data can be motivational. Data can help organizations understand that there is great opportunity in some area of the service, or resources being consumed to provide care. When leaders see the dollars that could be saved, or how changes could help make nurses’ lives easier by tweaking processes, which translates to better patient care—that’s exciting!  
Again, the barrier in embracing this opportunity is often the complexity of systems. However, the abundance of data coming from a plethora of sources can be extremely useful. Please note that using data that staff can trust is a logical path. Data from an accurate and repeatable source is key to inspiring innovation.
Another option is to look at data through a tool that can pull from multiple sources. Today’s business intelligence tools are making data visualizations more available and affordable for organizations trying to present opportunities from a spectrum of databases.
Why does presentation matter? Brains, hearts and souls operate differently as information is presented and consumed. Minds tell us literally that this number is a number, but hearts put emotion into the message allowing context and depth. Business intelligence offers the correlative functionality, which can help motivate audiences to ask questions, move beyond the data, and into the next very important stage: innovation. This is where organizations need to understand how important it is to look inside.
If organizations review the data gathered to make smart decisions about how to move forward, the team can become more operationally intelligent. Operational intelligence is an investment growing and matching human capital with data available in the organization.
Innovation can be a wellspring of positive change
Innovation in health care slightly lags other industries, but advances are occurring. When data can motivate, and staff want to innovate, a great way to capture that energy is by leveraging the tool sets garnered over the last decade that come from learning and doing process improvement.
Innovation is creating a different future state. Data is most likely the output of the current state (current processes), and when that motivates staff to be innovative, those ideas can be modeled into future state pictures. This is where improvement teams have grown and migrated inside organizations that have spent a great deal of energy removing waste and improving care processes. The skill sets of project management, process design (flow charting), and working with teams to implement changes are wonderful attributes to give innovation launching pads into operations.
A colleague once told me that ideas without action are worthless, and ideas without data are risky. In the wake of health care reform, that statement can ring true. In light of current health care challenges, squandering innovation due to lack of system data, understanding, or courage to explore it can result in opportunities lost. However, innovation needs collaboration to be most effective.
Collaboration takes human beings
Health care is an industry in which human resources consume a large percentage of budget resources. To overlook collaboration is to ignore a significant amount of investment. If leadership ignores this aspect and wonder why ideas are not gaining traction, tie it back to the investment the organization has made in human capital. It’s about people. Pulling data and presenting it can generate great ideas, but if people don’t engage, it won’t work. This also includes patients and the community health care organizations serve.
As a result, what can you do?
  • Review data from systems—what reports are useful?  What kind of reporting would be better?
  • Understand the data sources
  • Ask: how can you expand the context of that data?
  • Develop a process that transforms operational data into actionable information to facilitate better decisions for front line change
  • Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained

There are numerous reasons to change and improve operations, unfortunately the risk-free, tried-and-true options are limited. That’s the dilemma organizations are facing. However, looking inside and leveraging data currently in place, is a way forward. Dive into your data, explore and learn what you can from your reports. Work with your staff to correlate the data to strategic objectives. Coupling the data with business intelligence tools can help engage your staff and allow innovation to find its path into your organization.

NRHA commissioned the above piece from Eide Bailly, a trusted NRHA partner, for publication within the Association’s Rural Health Voices blog.

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