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.