Harnessing Data for Improved Performance

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Chris-Hall-webBy Christopher S. Hall, PhD

Healthcare information technology has been widely adopted by radiology for years, providing improved efficiency and diagnostic certainty. However, with recent efforts to move the United States healthcare industry to a value-based system, many practices have turned to even greater technological integration to drive efficiencies and outcomes.

Leveraging information from data-driven insights at the operational, clinical, and financial level provides a unique opportunity for radiology to lead change within healthcare organizations. While there is a wealth of data available in hospitals, many radiology departments have disparate or inconsistent information about their operational performance and variability. Radiology struggles to define “value” in a measurable way to the overall management of a patient. In many cases, the information is not readily available; and when it is available, it is often hard to derive insights needed to improve the radiology department. As a result, it is often difficult for radiology leadership to make decisions on improvement opportunities. Radiology administrators need an integrated management tool that fits with their own unique business intelligence framework and can evolve with their changing organization – not 50 spreadsheets.

By creating visibility into these data and making that information actionable, radiology departments can utilize gained insights to drive operational performance and reduce variability across their network. Data-driven practice management is an approach to provide ongoing support for departmental decision making. Its primary objective is to help radiology practices base their decisions upon a firm foundation of quantifiable metrics and to demonstrate their value to the overall healthcare system.

One of the most important steps in setting up a practice management approach is data governance. Data governance is essentially the processes that are set in place to select the correct data from which to derive metrics, to define the metrics carefully and thoroughly, to enable organizational “buy-in” for these metrics, and to have a mechanism to handle future changes or additions to these definitions. As most people who have worked in hospital IT settings recognize, the same information can sometimes be more reliable from one source than another in terms of both its availability and its overall correctness. Metrics definitions need careful discussion and thought to be meaningful since business decisions are made based on this information.

A successful practice management approach enables data to transform into information and provides enough insight that the information becomes actionable. It is similar to using a wearable device and adjusting actions based on the data. If a person’s goal is to reach 15,000 steps in one day and at noon they are notified that they’re only at 4,000, they are motivated to take action to reach their daily goal. However, without this real-time data visible on their wrist, the user isn’t as aware of their step status – leaving them less likely to adjust their actions to meet their step goal.

Visible data provides radiology administrators with insight that helps them better understand their department’s current clinical and operational performance. This in turn helps administrators to identify gaps and target areas for staff performance management. In fact, we’ve often heard from radiology administrators such quotes as:

“If equipment doesn’t work, I need to understand why and be able to resolve the issue quickly.”

“I need to strive to meet the forecast and understand the budgeted volume level.”

“How can I obtain monthly/weekly/daily numbers so I can course-correct when needed?”

In almost all of these cases, the administrator is looking for a means to identify issues early enough to deploy effective and measurable improvement actions. Practice management tools can ease the ability to roll out Six Sigma or Lean improvement actions. An often overlooked benefit to these tools is the democratization of access to information so that staff can identify issues themselves and formulate their own improvement actions without senior management having to dictate. Often, these “bottom up” initiatives have substantial impact and also improve staff engagement.

Initially, it is often helpful to set up a comprehensive baseline with a personalized assessment utilizing the practice management tooling and on-site interviews. During this assessment, the practice can identify tailored key performance indicators that can be used for the on-going real-time analysis of operations. Based on this initial analysis, a cross-functional team develops and deploys a tailored, integrated practice management solution that is refined for the management of site-defined targets. Thereafter, the tool can be used to provide a regular cadence of insights and recommendations for course-correction in areas such as operational and financial performance or patient experience.

Radiology is more than just the acquisition and interpretation of images – it plays a crucial and important role in many healthcare decisions. By adopting data-driven decision making, radiology can be leading example for other hospital service lines and departments who desire to become more efficient and effective in clinical, financial and operational aspects.

For more information on this topic, please join me at the 2016 AHRA Annual Meeting for my session, “Data-driven Performance Improvement to Optimize Imaging Volumes Across Equipment.”


Christopher S. Hall, PhD is Senior Director, Advanced Concept Development at Philips Radiology Solutions in Andover, MA. He can be reached at christopher.hall@philips.com.

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