Application of Business Healthcare Intelligence

Business intelligence (BI) is a general term used across many different industries of businesses that helps to explain utilization of stored data.  A more specific definition is the extracting, identifying and analyzing of computerized business data to provide current and predictive view of operations.

When integrating BI into the demands of healthcare the possibilities are almost limitless.  However, the need for a data warehouse coupled with BI is integral to uncovering the potential of the stored data.  How these work together is that the data warehouse is the efficient and effective way to store the collected information, which can then be accessed by all the necessary personnel.

The BI tools look at all that data and are able to dive down to find problem or red-flagged areas that should be looked over. Imagine sitting in a very important financial meeting where everyone has their own statistical data to backup their opinion for changes.  One department shows there is a surplus and demands more spending power, but according to your numbers, that same department is showing a significant loss and should be cutting back severely.  So, who is right?  Both parties have evidence that supports their point of view, and both consider the other to be incorrect.

Situations like this happen all too often because two or more groups are extracting their numbers differently, possibly from different sources, and basing decisions with far reaching consequences on that data.  If everyone was on the same page, with the same numbers, the same conclusions and all of it being accurate, more appropriate and effectual decisions could be made.

This is the importance of the data warehouse: everyone is pulling from the same information, and interpreting it the same way.  Thus better assessments can be made with everyone in agreement. Another typical situation that comes up can be that everyone sees that a department is losing money, everyone has settled on that fact, but the no one can explain how, where or why it is happening.  Sort of like looking at an Excel worksheet with all the numbers plugged in, the totals summed and yet no better understand of what is going on than before you looked at it.

How can you make changes if you don’t know where to start?  What if the changes you believe you should make don’t aid in the health of the company? All the stored data is in one location, the necessary people can access it to help draw current and future decisions, but what does this do if there is no analysis tool that makes meaningful use and presentable layouts that let you know what all the numbers really mean?

BI might be divided up just a little further to seen for the ultimate usability and also the end strategy that you want to meet.  You can have all the graphs, reports and summaries you can handle, but if you don’t know what your end-game is, than you are left with a very expensive data system. Obviously, more often than not, cutting costs and inefficiencies is at the top of everyone’s list.  There is nothing wrong with that in the field of healthcare, and in most cases, this would help with patient safety, treatment and overall cost.

To be more specific though: what if you wanted to cut down on the number of habitual patients seeking pain medicine.  This would mean understanding the fundamentals that go into a patient coming to a hospital or clinic on a regular basis.  This isn’t found within the vast array of numbers, but is found within notations and other information that can be housed in a data warehouse.  By having a strategy, you can see where you are headed and why. There are other pitfalls to be aware of that can bring down any giant of the business world.

In one word, let me say Segway.  Just because you build it, you hype it, you cover it in mystery and you launch to a national audience doesn’t mean that everyone will flock to buy it.  The same goes with business intelligence: just because you install it, instruct everyone and toot your own horn doesn’t mean everybody will support the decision or utilize it to the fullest potential.  Change is required and you need to understand that all your problems won’t be solved just because you instituted new software.

Additionally, no matter how much of a perfect fit BI software may be for you, if data quality isn’t an enforced concept for everyone involved, the old adage, “GIGO (garbage in, garbage out)” will always ring true.  A simple example of this could be if a health professional consistently entered a wrong spelling for medicine administered to patients, the information wouldn’t be pulled out for statistical reporting or other pertinent accounting.  This simple action could lead to eventually falling behind in having that medicine purchased or slightly skewing expenditures.  Without consistent checks to make sure that all information being entered is reliable, the conclusions made could be biased in one direction or another, but never completely accurate.

Healthcare business intelligence may be of the most complex of any known industry, but also may yield more long-lasting answers no matter your part in the healthcare system.  However, be ready to know the inner workings of the business and the strategies that will help to accomplish whatever goals may be requested or required of you.

Is the Clinical Data Warehouse still relevant?

I was doing some reading on data warehouses when I came across this article. It’s an interesting read on what the Texas Children’s Hospital did to turn its data warehouse into a very valuable tool. This is a great analysis on what modern health care practitioners face in regards to technology, and what solutions might currently be available.

Clinical Data Warehouse

Data warehousing, on the surface, may seem like a straightforward idea to grasp.  However, there are so many functions that must happen in the right order for a user trying to access information from that warehouse to receive what he or she wants.  In most cases, we all take having and getting access to data for granted; that it is something easy and we should just be able to type or click a few things, and voila, instant answers in the form of reports or electronic records.

WarehouseAll the work that goes into making easy for you and me to pull out information from some unknown location down the wire from our computers comes from the hard work that software programmers put into the organization, maintenance and then retrieval of all the inputted data.

I can almost hear the groaning happening right now.  Who can even understand when some IT guy (or gal) tries to explain the huge complexities that goes into their job, and, on top of that, includes all the jargon that only programmers understand, anyway?  Honestly, more than anything, it takes someone that understands the programming world and can explain it in more relevant terms to breach this gap.

Let’s imagine that you want to store a huge amount of information on all your clients, vendors and any other miscellaneous details that may need to be accessed later.  More specifically, you are a doctor within a group of other medical professionals. This data could be written down and stored on thousands upon thousands of papers, files and tabs that would have to be gone through one by one to extract the exact data you needed.  This obviously is not efficient and is prone to human error.  So, the next obvious place to store information is on a computer.  However, if everyone in an office is vying for information at the same time, that one computer is not sufficient.  Most of you are probably saying, “Network the computers!”

By setting up and having a network, many different computers can be utilized at one time, and the information is available to all.  But, what happens when the hub of the networking computers no longer has space for any more data to be entered?  It must be time to upgrade to something bigger, and depending upon your needs, this could be a larger hard drive for a computer or moving to server(s).  This allows for significant growth of data, and everyone still has access.  Access to what, though?  Do you have everything loaded onto Word or Excel sheets?  Or did you spring for software that allows production of reports, receipts and any statements that may be required?

Now, we are stepping into the big boy’s game of clinical data warehousing.  The warehousing portion of this refers to where massive amounts of information are stored for access by more than just a few people.  And, just in case you might be wondering, the data is not on Excel sheets but is carefully filed into categories within the software so that it can be easily distinguished, sorted and managed.

At this point, it could be very easy to throw IT lingo at you and expect you to keep up, but that is not my intent.  Data, especially clinical or medical data, is only helpful when you are able to use it for making decisions, extracting for specific purposes or finding patters and trends.  This is where the software you chose becomes essential.  But, not only the software as a name but as a functioning entity you can employ.  If you wanted a list of all your clients in alphabetical order with addresses and phone numbers, most software will function quite well.  On the other hand, what if you needed more dynamic information that was up-to-the-minute and contained client details that requires privacy protections.  That Excel sheet isn’t going to be of any help!

Because you now have made a serious investment for your medical practice with a software program that allows for you to keep on top of everything, you don’t necessarily want to spend more money every so often if there is are changes on your network or within your system.  Or, worse yet, what if there are new requirements for reporting that the corporate offices or government need?  Instead, what if you were able to just ask for new parameters to be added, changed or removed in order to comply with the higher-ups?   With software that processes the data with late-binding procedures, the flexibility that you are afforded allows you to keep the same software without significant upgrades, updates, or changes on each and every computer in your office that might shut you down for a while.

I know, I just threw IT wording at you: late-binding.  Don’t stop reading; I want to explain the benefits.  There are always updates that occur, but instead of having to buy the newest version and licensing for all computers on your system, you may only need to buy the newest version of the software for the newest computer to the system or if the boss (you) wants the latest edition.  Everyone else can continue to work with what they are used to, and you have the latest and greatest.  Because of the late-binding function within the software, flexibility is at a maximum and your company isn’t forced to make unnecessary upgrades that could be costly and inefficient.

It seems as if the healthcare industry is just a few steps behind many of the other industries and professions out there. However, the benefits that could be seen and felt within healthcare could surpass just about anyone else’s needs out there. Whether you are a doctor, other health professional or work at some other business industry, you can understand the need for flexibility and up-to-the-minute information that great software provides at a doctor’s office or hospital.

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