How healthy is your data?

By Martin Barlow - March 14, 2017

The healthcare industry is a people industry. The majority of cost is in paying the wide range of skilled and varied staff involved in delivering quality healthcare. It is a delicate mix of ensuring the correct skill sets and numbers of staff, as well as maintaining tight financial control to ensure the most cost effective workforce.

It is a subtle balance between trying to be as cost effective with your rosters and ensuring legislative compliance and quality patient outcomes. I have spoken many times about this and the answer is always the same. Practitioners need to provide timely accurate data on which to base decisions, coupled with workforce management systems that are intuitive and easy to access and use.

It is also about the overall integration of various systems from PAS to EMR to back office systems such as rostering and BI. So where to look? A lot of healthcare forecasting relies on accurate historical data. There are patterns to patient conditions, acuity and bed days.

Undertake a ‘health check’ of your own data. Start by taking an inventory and understanding what data is available to you. How good is the quality of the data? How much historical data do you have? How easy is it to pull all of this data together into a decision making tool?

Determine your strategy for the use of the data and look to see if your existing systems can adequately support your future needs. A market scan of tools, applications and systems can help you understand how well equipped you are compared to your competitors.

Networking with your healthcare colleagues can assist in assessing your level of data quality. Organisations such as HISA (Health Informatics Society of Australia) can be a great starting point with many members facing the same data challenges.

The challenges are potentially difficult, however the benefits in terms of optimal patient outcomes together with reduced cost of doing business, make it a worthwhile journey. The sooner you start, the sooner you position yourself in the digital health space. Ask yourself, can you afford not to see if your data would pass its health check?

Healthy data in context

Controlling costs requires significant data analysis to identify where costs are so that efficiencies can be found – all whilst trying to hit a moving target. One area of cost control is being mindful of case mixes when assigning rosters and staff mix. More acute conditions require more attention and different skill sets to the less acute patient. Forecasts on your likely case mix may result in rostering the wrong mix of staff skills and numbers which can lead to a budget blow out, or alternatively, less than perfect outcomes for the patient.

These suboptimal cases are not only bad for the patient first and foremost but may impact reputation and affect funding as well.

Patient bed days may change very quickly with patients being discharged earlier than first thought, or patients delaying their surgery until a later date. You learn at the bed meeting you have fewer patients but you have already rostered on staff for the day.

Staffing levels for operating theatres (OT) are also difficult to manage as surgeons change their caseload at the last minute. As a hospital, you are always trying to ensure the OTs are adequately staffed to meet surgeon’s requirements.

Martin Barlow is a Consulting Client Director at Pitcher Partners Melbourne.

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