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Business Intelligence Gets a Much-Needed Boost in New Book

Posted on September 13, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

As I mentioned last week, I’m in the midst of reading Laura Madsen’s book, “Healthcare Business Intelligence: a Guide to Empowering Successful Data Reporting and Analytics.” I admit it’s kind of slow going, though not because of any lack of writing talent on Madsen’s part. On the contrary, the Lancet Software executive and founder of the Healthcare BI Summit has taken what at times can be a somewhat dry topic, and put a real-world clinical spin on it, injecting a bit of levity here and there to boot.

I’m reading at a snail’s pace because the events of National Health IT week have got me going this way and that – following the #NHITweek tweet stream, attending more webinars than I can count, attending networking events, etc. I’m looking forward to capping the week off with the #HITsm tweet chat on Friday, which will likely focus on the main themes brought forth by the ONC and HIMSS.

And so I’m glad, even though I haven’t finished her book, I had a chance to chat with Madsen before this week began about why the time was ripe for her book, and how the landscape of business intelligence and data analytics is evolving before our very eyes.

How have you seen the healthcare BI and data warehousing landscape change in the last 10 years? What has surprised you the most?
Healthcare BI has changed drastically. I would say that’s it’s gone from a back-office data geek operation to a front-of-the-house strategic effort in the last two years. The technology landscape in that time has changed significantly as well. We have solved so many of the issues that used to ‘hang us up.’ I can’t tell you how many conversations I used to have on ‘stovepiped’ data models or ‘architecting into a corner.’ The scalability of the products has improved our ability to deliver predictive analytics using desktop tools. It’s been a wild ride!

Why write this book now?
Well, simply, there was finally an audience. For years, BI in healthcare was something the big payers did, and if you wanted to do it you had to work with them. But as the impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) really started to sink in, most providers realized that data wasn’t a checkbox activity anymore; they would have to not only use EHRs, but the data that was coming out of them as well, to maintain their foothold.

On a related note, how long ago did you found the summit? Why was the time ripe then for its debut?
I founded the summit four years ago, in my first year at Lancet. In the beginning, I think most people thought I was a bit crazy. The truth was, I spent most of my career in healthcare BI and had to find the people that were doing it the hard way. I always wanted to have a good conference to go to that would allow me to network and fill the gaps that whitepapers and vendors can’t. It was purely by luck that I was right in guessing that other people felt that way too.

How have you seen the event’s demographics and content change in the last several years?
Interest has grown nearly exponentially just from last year to this year. This is the first year we are having a more ‘tactical’ track, with organizations that have created data warehouses so they can talk about the logistics of doing the work. It’s a lot to cover in a typical one-hour conference session, but it’s so important for us to learn from one another. We continue to draw attendees that are manager-level and above, and many other analysts from both payers and providers, so I believe we have hit the right mix of content.

In the beginning we still focused a lot on ‘reports’, whereas this year we have more content on analytics and nothing on traditional reports. It’s been an evolution that is matching the rapid changes in the industry. It’s fun to watch!

What will you be concentrating on in your keynote at this year’s summit?
The presentation is entitled,” Above the Fray: Delivering on the Promise of Healthcare BI.” The focus is really just that: There is such a frenetic pace in healthcare these days that it’s really difficult to focus. Based on the five tenets I wrote about in my book, I talk about the things healthcare organizations should focus on in their first year of a BI effort.

Aside from the BI summit, what are your must-attend healthcare events?
I like the smaller conferences that focus on healthcare analytics. Every two years The Center for Business Innovation (TCBI) does a conference on healthcare analytics. The conference has a lot of depth, but it’s small enough that it allows you to interact. Any conference like that is a winner for me, and the good news is that there are many of them now with the increased interest in healthcare BI.

In the book’s preface, you mention “more than 70 percent of BI programs fail on their first attempt.” That’s a huge number. What do you think is the main reason for these failures?
If I had to pick one thing, it’s that most organizations don’t treat BI like an ecosystem.  I introduced this idea in a Lancet blog a year or so ago.  Because BI is so inter-related, it is fraught with challenges. In the experiences that I’ve had, you can’t attribute ‘failure’ to just one thing. It’s also important to note that we often ‘fail’ without realizing it. BI will deliver something but the business doesn’t think it’s the right thing, or enough. Expectation management is an important piece of the work, and so is marketing the effort. Because failure is really high in first-attempt BI programs, I wrote about the tenets of BI – the things you have to do first to ensure success.

What do you think is the next step for data in healthcare? Where do you see it having the biggest impact on patient care in the next 5 to 10 years?
Without question, if we can crack the code of unstructured data, that will revolutionize healthcare BI. With the consistent use of unstructured data, we can glean so much more information from the data—important, clinically relevant information. This will really help in our journey towards analytics in healthcare. Also, any effort the industry can make towards consistency would be beneficial. We may see this evolve as a result of HIEs. The current landscape of healthcare data is so different that any sharing, or frankly, any attempt to create products will be slow to adopt because the work involved in getting the data in is so significant. We could change healthcare quickly with some consistency around products and codes; then innovation associated with healthcare data could be much farther reaching. Compared to today, when you really have to have someone that knows the data in your organization very well.

Broadly, I believe BI in healthcare will move much more towards the patient. In chapter 8 of my book, I talk about future trends. One thing I see is that the next generation has a much different perspective on privacy, confidentiality and the type and amount of information they have available to them. BI to the patient that is context-based and visually well-designed will forever change healthcare.

Swimming in Too Much EMR Data

Posted on May 31, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I don’t know about you, but the long holiday weekend was far too short for me. The majority of my family’s time was spent kicking off summer at various pools (with the appropriate sunblock, of course). Pools and swimming are somewhat second nature to me. The smell of chlorine takes me back to my high school and early college days of year round swim team, coaching summer swim league and sitting in a lifeguard chair in the brutal heat, whistle dangling around my neck.

As we gear up for my oldest daughter’s first summer swim meet this week (picking the appropriate swim cap, finding those goggles that fit just right and painting our toes the appropriate team color), I’m hoping that she’ll come to love the sights, sounds and smells of the pool as well. She certainly seemed to enjoy herself at one of the Memorial Day weekend pool parties we attended.

One family affair in particular found me wading into a conversation about Turns out a soon-to-be new member of the family works for the company, and I told him that, as part of my day job, I had been dabbling in using it. He quickly asked me about my likes and dislikes, at which point his fiancé chimed in with the lament that yes, Salesforce is an awesome tool, but more often than not, sales team do not have the time (and in some cases the inclination or training) to fully make use of all its bells and whistles.

I pondered her statement a bit further as I watched my daughter practice swimming with her new flippers, and realized that those of us that use SaaS (software as a service) technologies – like electronic medical records – tend to have the same complaint. Bells and whistles are great, but if I never have the time to learn to use them effectively to accomplish goals specific to my tasks, then I’m not going to use them at all. And I’m never going to pay much attention to the constant updates and add-ons these sorts of technologies usually come with.

I wonder if some EMR end-users feel the same way. They love the idea behind the technology, and certainly the government incentives that typically come along with using it, but after implementation find themselves with only enough time to utilize the EMR’s basic functions. I’d assume this might be a bigger problem for private practice physicians than for those working within a hospital.

I’m certainly not the first to ponder the relationship between Salesforce and EMRs. Our fearless leader John Lynn wrote about Practice Fusion building a personal health record on top of Salesforce way back in 2009, seemingly not long after Salesforce invested in the HIT company.

What I’m talking about, however, is the amount of time and energy required to truly take advantage of the vast oceans of meaningful data that can be culled from an EMR. Big data is great. Lord knows we’ve all been convinced of the value of that and the business intelligence tools that help us decipher it. I’d be interested to hear from doctors that have pondered the same thing. Are providers swimming in too much EMR information? Are they faced with more than they could ever possibly utilize? Does it come down to user experience and user-centric design?

Let me know what you think in the comments below. In the meantime, I’ll be helping my daughter perfect her backstroke.

Business Intelligence Gets a Boost from popHealth and the MAeHC

Posted on February 9, 2012 I Written By

As Social Marketing Director at Billian, Jennifer Dennard is responsible for the continuing development and implementation of the company's social media strategies for Billian's HealthDATA and Porter Research. She is a regular contributor to a number of healthcare blogs and currently manages social marketing channels for the Health IT Leadership Summit and Technology Association of Georgia’s Health Society. You can find her on Twitter @JennDennard.

I’ve been inundated with two things as of late – HIMSS12 planning and all things business intelligence. I’ve spent the last few weeks helping prepare the Porter Research team for a webinar on providers’ perceptions of business intelligence, which I’m sure will be a big theme at HIMSS. As I’ve been looking over data from the latest Porter Research survey on BI, I’ve realized that providers know they need it but many aren’t quite sure how to define it, what they need out of it, how to implement it, or how to go about making it meaningful for their organization’s particular needs. And vendors in the healthcare space seem to be (or so I thought) just getting into the game of developing these sorts of tools – be they on a departmental or enterprise level.

Micky Tripathi, President and CEO of the Massachusetts eHealth Collaborative (MAeHC) – a nonprofit healthcare IT advisory and consultancy firm – alerted me to an interesting business intelligence tool called popHealth during my recent interview with him for a Porter Research feature on that state’s developing health information exchange. The MAeHC team, which includes among its services the MAeHC Quality Data Center, will be part of the Interoperability Showcase at HIMSS12, and will help to highlight the functionality and accuracy of the popHealth tool.

“popHealth was originally created as an open-source quality measurement tool by the Primary Care Information Project in New York City,” explained Tripathi, “which was headed at the time by Dr. Farzad Mostashari. Now that he’s the national coordinator for health IT, he’s been promoting it at a national level as a free, open-source tool that any organization in the country can use to send their clinical data to and get Meaningful Use clinical quality measures out of.”

Since then, the ONC has contracted with the Mitre Corporation to further develop the platform for a national user base.

You can of course check out the popHealth website for more info, but in a nutshell, the tool is “an open source reference implementation software service that automates the reporting of Meaningful Use quality measures. popHealth integrates with a healthcare provider’s electronic health record (EHR) system using continuity of care records. popHealth streamlines the automated generation of summary quality measure reports on the provider’s patient population.

“popHealth supports healthcare providers and EHR vendors by reporting clinical quality measures from electronic health record continuity of care files. Providers are empowered to better understand, and analyze the health of their patient population, and meet Meaningful Use reporting objectives, through reports of clinical quality measures. EHR vendors and healthcare providers are free to download, use, and integrate the popHealth software in their systems.”

The popHealth team will at HIMSS also to announce the winner of their tool development challenge. Announced last fall, the competition challenges participants to “develop an application that leverages the popHealth open source framework, existing functionality, standards and sample datasets to improve patient care and provide greater insight into patient populations.”

As the need for business intelligence tools and demand for open source solutions grow, I’ll be interested to see if popHealth ushers in a new era of reporting – one that everyone can take advantage of thanks to its non-existent price tag.