Analytics is the wave of the future

Oscar MarroquinWhile “Big Data” and analytics are among the most widely discussed topics in healthcare today, many healthcare organizations are still just beginning to grapple with why and how best they should incorporate analytics into their operations in order to better understand the reams of data new health IT is helping them collect.

To Oscar Marroquin, MD, FACC, vice president of clinical analytics for UPMC Health Services Division, assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology, and clinical and translational science, the reasons are pretty clear.

“We are in an environment in which it’s imperative that we understand the impacts of our healthcare delivery actions on a variety of outcomes,” he noted recently, “whether patient-related or financial. Are we being efficient? Are we delivering value, meaning the best outcome at the lowest cost?”

He added that while, traditionally, the main goal for providers has been to deliver the best care possible even when they weren’t being measured on it, the change in payment models from fee-for-service to fee-for-value, along with new penalties for outcomes that don’t meet targets, means that providers need to be able to measure and report their outcomes with unprecedented precision.

To a certain extent, Marroquin said, the new focus on data and analytics is simply a by-product of technological advances.  “Ten to 15 years ago, it would have been very difficult for most of us to do analytics” because nearly everyone was still on paper records. “Even if we had wanted to do analytics at the time, we did not have the right tools to do so.  Not only do we now have the computational power, but we also have the raw material, which is our electronic data, for us to be able to apply analytics to.  We can integrate data, move it, manage it, and then analyze it in order to answer questions.”

Finally, Marroquin pointed to the fact that patients are being called upon to think more like consumers when it comes to managing their own healthcare costs, so providers and payers need to be able to offer them the most accurate data possible for their decisions.

Of course, it’s one thing for an organization to decide it’s time to step up their analytics efforts; it’s another thing to understand how best to do it.  According to Marroquin, the fact is there’s not necessarily a good template that’s broadly applicable to all organizations.  When UPMC implemented its current analytics programs a few years back, he said, “we had to define for ourselves where we wanted to be in the future” when it came to being able to determine for themselves, and share with their patients, the impact of all their activities from a clinical and financial perspective.

With that goal in mind, Marroquin said, organizations need to recognize that coming up with a strategy for analytics has many different levels that need to be worked on simultaneously.  “It’s easy to see analytics as just a technological hurdle,” he said, “but it’s important to realize that technology is necessary but not sufficient.” 

For example, there needs to be institutional support for the transition.  “This needs to be an organizational priority.  Without that, it’s too hard.” 

Despite the challenges of getting analytics programs up and running, Marroquin has little doubt that data driven decisions are the wave of the future.  In the years ahead, he said, “we’re going to see a tremendous transition where we will move from doctors and organizations relying on their own personal experience and their own knowledge of the available data, to one where we are constantly introducing information that comes from the latest analytics into decisions both large and small.”