Improving Outcomes, Business Intelligence Top Priorities for Healthcare

Healthcare business intelligence and data analytics

Leveraging data and health IT tools to improve outcomes and deliver actionable business intelligence are among the healthcare industry’s highest priorities for 2019, according to this year’s HIMSS US Leadership and Workforce Survey.

Vendors and providers agree that improving quality and making smarter business decisions are the key to sustainability and success in a rapidly changing ecosystem.

These priorities are second only to cybersecurity and data privacy, indicting a widespread recognition that analytics capabilities may be critical, but must not come at the expense of privacy and security.

“There is a remarkable intensity around cyber security, privacy, and security as a top information and technology priority,” the report observes, noting that both vendors and providers rated security significantly more highly than their next most pressing goal.

On a scale of 1 to 7, cybersecurity rated 5.69 for providers, while “improving quality outcomes through health information and technology” received only a 5.23.  Hospitals were even more likely than non-acute care providers to stress the importance of keeping data private and secure.

The results mirror similar attitudes from the 2018 edition of the survey, in which hospitals were more likely to focus on security matters than turn their attention to vendor efforts to push analytics tools.

However, both vendors and providers are eager to extract value from their data once they can assure its protection.  Goals rooted in access to robust and actionable data analytics ranked very highly for organizations of all types and missions.

Hospitals expressed particularly strong interest in using clinical informatics to bolster clinician engagement, while acute and non-acute providers are both seeking to create cultures of care and care coordination.

Process improvement and change management also saw strong interest from both types of providers, followed very closely by improving the user experience and enhancing user-centered design.

Perhaps surprisingly, population health management, consumerism, and precision medicine were all low priorities for providers.

Counterintuitively, hospitals expressed significantly more interest than non-acute care providers in managing populations at scale.  While hospitals gave population health management a priority score of 4.77, physician participants rated population health a mere 2.94.

This may indicate that non-acute care providers feel it is the hospital’s responsibility to keep patients from needing acute care services – what’s interesting is that hospitals apparently agree, despite the loss of revenue feared by hospitals in the fee-for-service environment.

“As hospital leaders increasingly look to influence the health of populations ‘outside the walls’ of their buildings, they will need to work with community providers,” the report said.

“That non-acute providers were less passionate about many of the community issues considered in this survey than their hospital peers were suggests hospital leaders may be challenged in activating non-acute providers on select community initiatives.”

Precision medicine was also viewed as a matter of little interest.  The ability to target personalized care to individuals through genomics and analytics ranked only above “implementing grand societal changes” as a focus for providers.

Meanwhile, consumerism, using technology to promote healthy aging, and leveraging apps to improve care delivery also filled out the bottom of the list.

Despite the general buzz around disruption and keeping pace with non-traditional players such as Amazon and Apple, provider groups are not making innovation investment a major component of their strategic plans for 2019.

Organizations are, instead, focusing their resources internally, and are ramping up investment in health IT implementation and optimization.  Fifty-nine percent of providers expect demands for health IT expertise to increase in the next year.  Among hospitals specifically, the number is 63 percent.

This is dramatically different than the responses from 2018, when a mere 24 percent of hospitals anticipated a hike in demand for analytics and health IT resources.

In order to meet these rising demands, non-acute provider organizations in particular will need to recruit senior leaders that many currently lack.  Over half of non-acute providers do not employ an information and technology executive, such as a CIO or CTO.

Around 90 percent of hospitals already have their health IT leaders in place.  These executives tend to be CIOs and senior clinical IT leaders, such as CMIOs and CNIOs, who can bridge the gaps between the IT department and the clinical environment.

HIMSS notes that vendors attempting to offer solutions in the acute care environment may have the most success by targeting their sales efforts to these types of executives.

Vendors that provide solutions to both acute and non-acute care providers may find an even more complex challenge, however, since the two categories of providers have varying workforce structures and different expectations about staffing and organizing their teams.

Both acute and non-acute providers are still struggling to fill vacancies across the staffing spectrum, with just 36 percent of providers overall stating that they are fully staffed.  That average is skewed towards non-acute providers, 56 percent of whom are fully staffed.  In contrast, just 28 percent of hospitals could say the same.

Hospitals have seen positive growth in their workforce size over the past year, with 42 percent reporting that they have been able to increase their staff.  They expect to either hold steady (38 percent) or continue to grow their employment base (37 percent) over the next twelve months.

Many of these new staff members will be clinical and operational in nature, but some are likely to be IT and analytics experts to support growing initiatives.

For non-acute providers, it is particularly important to recruit technology-savvy executive leaders who can enhance the organization’s knowledge about analytics initiatives, the report says.

“The absence of information and technology leaders in non-acute organizations is unsettling as it becomes more challenging to advance capabilities without strong executive champions,” HIMSS states.

“The report also reveals that hospitals and non-acute provider organizations have very different experiences when dealing with a health IT workforce.  Hospitals tend to operate in environments with fairly extensive opportunities, whereas non-acute providers tend to deal with static workforce demands.”

“The culture that can result from these different settings is something healthcare leaders should take into consideration when developing a staffing strategy.”

Organizations that hope to leverage meaningful business intelligence and take advantage of cutting-edge analytics capabilities to improve outcomes will need to focus on developing staff that can combine data-driven skills with knowledge of the healthcare industry.