Health data analytics should be a priority for physicians

Though many physicians feel they have more pressing technology concerns, their practices could be enhanced by applying more health data analytics.

The number of small and midsize medical practices that adopted EHR systems surged over the last decade. For the providers that transitioned from paper charts to an EHR, the electronic platform was viewed as way to digitally capture and retrieve clinical data.

Moving to an EHR system also satisfied external requirements and pressures such as pay-for-performance reporting, e-prescribing, health information exchange and meaningful use. Early EHR adopters weren't concerned with health data analytics and neither are some of today's providers.

The power of health data analytics

It's easy to get carried away when discussing health data analytics with physicians. Many of them recognize how powerful data and some reporting tools can be when applied correctly. As many clinicians described to me, they have far more important issues to address with their EHRs. In several interviews with physicians across a collection of specialties, they mentioned the need to balance between time spent looking at screens, capturing data and patient interactions as one of their top priorities.

"Analytics tools will be more valuable when first you can show me how I can see all my patients and capture all the data I need without working late hours," an allergist I spoke with said. As reimbursement payments shrink and data requirements increase, organizations don't have enough resources to dedicate to health data analytics projects.

The overall added benefits of analytics shouldn't be ignored for much longer. Soon, more physicians will realize that healthcare analytics systems help organizations run efficiently and can also benefit patient care. While some EHR vendors provide reporting tools as part of their systems, most vendors seem to fall short in delivering adequate training for medical practices looking to incorporate data analytics into their workflows.

Health data analytics applications

The task of applying health data analytics is often left to individuals that have previous analytics experience. Employees that came from organizations where key performance indicators, scorecards and dashboards were commonly used will often be tapped by their current employer to assist in leading an analytics project.

There are some EHR systems that invested in educating their clients on the value of data mining and analytics and have synced up with reporting platforms to offer a comprehensive platform for healthcare organizations. Vendors such as NextGen Healthcare Information Systems LLC, athenaHealth Inc. and eClinicalWorks LLC provide tools and technical training for their clients, as well as educational content that helps organizations understand the potential of analytics.

Here are some objectives that vendors have pitched to clients as possible through deploying their products:

  • Learn how to successfully run a medical practice;
  • Evidence-based decisions that use current data;
  • Reduce denials for claims with daily dashboard views;
  • Manage high-risk patients via dashboards; and
  • Monitor productivity, profitability and performance of the practice.

Analytics must be more than a reporting engine for small and midsize practices. It should also not be limited to a set of basic dashboards and general reports. Medical practices have the opportunity to analyze all their data to improve how they manage patient care and run their businesses. The volume of captured data, combined with any of today's effective products should force a health data analytics initiative higher up on providers' priority lists.

About the author:
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email [email protected] or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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