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Embracing Big Data: Five Strategic Imperatives You Must Address

Commentary by Dr. Graham Hughes, Chief Medical Officer, SAS Center for Health Analytics and Insights

The Opportunity

When healthcare historians reflect on the current decade, there is little doubt it will be documented as a pivotal era in our nation’s history. Whichever way you look at it, PPACA and HITECH have created an unprecedented opportunity for data-fueled healthcare transformation.

Of course, some will try to maintain the status quo, but those who have chosen to seize the opportunity are developing multi-year road maps to address the following five imperatives:

  1. Manage financial risks and incentives associated with emerging payment models
  2. Proactively manage quality and outcomes, rather than just report on quality measures after the fact
  3. Improve efficiency of care delivery by identifying and eliminating waste
  4. Engage patients as unique individuals to anticipate and respond proactively to their health needs
  5. Establish a robust information management and analytics foundation that treats enterprise data as an essential asset that supports organizational excellence

The Challenge

The majority of organizations are inadequately prepared for the new era of accountability being fueled by healthcare reform. Their digital infrastructures are focused on supporting transactions rather than transformation, while data remains siloed and chaotic, not synthesized and curated. To make well-informed, data-driven decisions, the current and emerging enterprise data needs to be managed effectively. As the focus shifts to a broader view of the health needs of both the individual and the population, traditionally distinct data sets (such as claims data and clinical data) will need to be brought together. Couple this with the opportunity to use emerging and nontraditional data sets, such as those captured by digital home monitoring, health 2.0, social media apps, and consumer-related data that has been used for years in other industries, and the opportunity quickly begins to look like an overwhelming “big data” challenge.

The Solution

It helps if you have the right analytics technology to support each stage of organizational growth, from visual exploration and reporting to forecasting, predictive modeling, optimization, and point-of-care workflow integration. However, there are some key indicators of success to keep in mind: the level of C-suite support, tight alignment with top-level business strategy, a focus on frontline value at the point of care, and a clearly articulated approach to each of the imperatives outlined above.

Consider the following questions as you continue to refine your analytics strategy:

  • How will we perform under one or more value-based payment contracts? How is that likely to evolve over the next five years?
  • How can we optimize both revenue and margin, based on multiple, potentially conflicting contract payment models?
  • Where are the greatest areas of variation for both care and cost? What’s behind that variation?
  • How does our performance compare both regionally and nationally?
  • What patterns do we see in readmissions that can lead to successful interventions?
  • How well do we predict the risk of complications, length of stay, or readmission for individual patients—and how do we disseminate that information to care teams?
  • What do we know about the level of risk in the populations we serve today and in the future?
  • What interventions are most effective at engaging specifically targeted cohorts of patients?
  • What data do we need to improve care and control costs?
  • What is our strategic approach to information governance, security, and data quality?

Answers to these questions will help you start necessary conversations about analytic imperatives within your organization. Plus, you’ll be able to assess how far along you are on your journey from a reactive to a predictive healthcare organization—one that’s fully prepared for success in this new era.

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