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Challenges Implementing Healthcare Analytics

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Challenges implementing business analytics in healthcareI have written about the application of Business Analytics in Healthcare before, but I am elaborating on it again, because the application of analytical outcomes to improve service and other business outcomes in healthcare has received a lot of focus lately. It is an area that will continue to have a big impact on the healthcare industry. However, it is also a field where neither the data, nor the application of analytical outcomes are quite that simple.

In past blog’s I have mentioned of how, through applying advanced analytics, healthcare providers and insurers can prevent fraud and corruption and how analytical analyses could even help cure certain illnesses. In this blog I will be exploring the business opportunities and challenges that come with implementing business analytics in the healthcare sector.

According to research, more than half of healthcare executives predict that over the next three years technology platforms will have the biggest impact on their business models. As we know, healthcare service providers are all working to achieve objectives such as improving productivity; coping with larger numbers of patients quicker; keeping costs low and improving the service to patients and even their families. To meet all these challenges in this technological era, the healthcare industry needs to, amongst other things, adapt and make more effective use of business analytics, and apply it more innovatively to the large and ever-growing data set that is being collected.

Unstructured text

Text, and especially unstructured text, plays a key role in healthcare organisations, as the amount of documents that flow in, through and out of hospitals, clinics and other service providers is phenomenal. Documents can delay the day-to-day running of a hospital if they are time consuming to process and situations can easily arise where the information contained on those documents can be lost. On the other hand, many of these documents are rich in information, which if analysed, can assist the organisation to address a much wider range of issues, challenges and opportunities. Text analytics can provide the means to sort through this flood of structured and unstructured data, interpret it and provide valuable insight, which can aid healthcare organisations to deliver on the demands that they face on a daily basis. As a case in point, a physician’s consulting notes contain much more sympomatic evidence than a few diagnosis codes can depict. Imagine the powerful diagnosis algorithms we can put together if we can incorporate the wider diagnosis commentary, treatment and eventual outcomes into the mix too.

Case studies

Other examples of using business analytics in healthcare processes include:

  • Analysing and predicting emergency department arrivals and occupancy, potentially leading to better triaging and queuing models.
  • Analysing and predicting hospital theatre utilisation, or ward occupancy, potentially leading to better resource utilisation or staff employment.
  • Analysing and segmenting healthcare providers (e.g. doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, radiologists, etc.) and predicting patient successes and hospital re-admissions.
  • Analysing patient in-hospital and external data, to identify and use non-clinical variables to predict relapses, successful at-home care, rehabilitation or re-admittances.
  • Analysing pricing structures and modelling more optimal case mixes for better ward or theatre utilisation, and improved staff deployment.
  • Analysing ambulance schedules, routes, response times, etc in order to propose more optimal scheduling and routing for more successful delivery of patients.
  • Analysing hospital resource utilisation (beds, trolleys, emergency equipment, and specialised equipment) to propose more optimal resource booking, reservation, storage, location and retrieval methods.

Impact of change

As we can see from the above, the implementation of business analytics in the healthcare sector is a ‘no brainer’. However, in light of the above opportunities, why then is the industry so slow in implementing and operationalising analytics? The answer, in my opinion, is related to the challenge of changing existing processes.

In order for business analytics to make an impact on the healthcare industry, it needs to first be tested in a few hospitals. Furthermore, both healthcare organisations and suppliers continually face the challenge of customisation. Each healthcare organisation demands business analytics to suit its business objectives; otherwise, it is less useful. Additionally, point customisation is an expensive business model for any company to implement.

Likewise, the organisation must be willing to change its business processes, and take corrective action, or even make strategic changes in direction, based on the outcomes of analytics. Too often one generates really actionable insight, but the organisation is not prepared to act on it. Never mind the lost opportunity for improvement, it is by itself in the end just a wasted effort. For example, a healthcare insurer must be willing to alter its claim payment process if you are going to predict fraudulent claims with any high probability. They need to be willing to re-route potential fraudulent claims and incorporate a claims audit process to investigate those cases before payments are approved. This seems contrary to the goal of straight-though-processing, but in the end the organisation stands more to gain by not having to wrote off billions to fraudulent claims.

Staff training

Another challenge that the healthcare industry has to face with business analytics is training the staff on how to understand it correctly. If staff members do not understand how business analytics works, it can be more time-consuming to explain the process and make the results actionable, never mind fixing any incorrect analyses and the implications of decisions that were made based on these. An organisation needs a certain level of maturity in its handling of information, before it can generate and use analytical results effectively. For example, if a clinic does not have a view of its occupancy and staff productivity, there is no point in predicting seasonal variances in patient arrivals and treatment intensity.

Impact of measurement

But there’s an even bigger challenge, and that occurs in any industry. You really have to pay attention to how analytics is used to affect business processes. If you surface and emphasise the wrong KPI, or evn just focus on the right KPI the wrong way, it can encourage worse behaviour, which in the longer run can be detrimental to the organisation. As a case in point, if you push to hard to reduce length of stay in an hospital, you may get an increase in relapses and re-admissions, which are way more costly than an extra bed day here and there.

As such, it takes strategic planning, actions, and high-level management approaches to gain any advantages out of analytics. Even more so to make it positively actionable. Organisations need to understand that adopting business analytics into the healthcare industry will not happen overnight, but rather that it is a process that needs to be managed and maintained correctly.

Concluding remarks

However, the application of business analytics can provide significant insights in meeting the organisations goals and gaining a competitive advantage. In fact, some selectively chosen analytical applications can provide a quick return on investment (ROI) and provide the foundation for further use of analytics across the entire organisation.

Therefore, we need to look for opportunities for adopting business analytics into healthcare systems and processes, to better exploit the ample opportunities it provides. Of course, we need the reality check too – you always have to investigate and analyse how much value analytivs can provide; and whether the additional insight can be actioned cost-effectively.

In line with this, PBT Australia, in partnership with the Australian Centre for Health Innovation and Deakin University’s Masters in Business Analytics program, are this month launching the Health Insights Challenge, which aims to find and solve the “best” healthcare business analytics challenge or opportunity in Victoria.

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