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Use Healthcare Public Reporting to Propel Your Analytics Efforts

Originally published September 26, 2011

Healthcare providers measure everything and collect massive amounts of data. So much data on so many topics is collected that often these organizations do not know where to focus their analytics efforts. In some cases, they simply respond to demands for information from regulators, payers, purchasers and public reporting publishers. In reactive mode, their analytics efforts are fragmented and frequently overlap. Additionally, these organizations do not have a rational strategy for delivering metrics that can make a difference in profitability, operational efficiency or clinical quality. The real risk is not measuring something that is important while spending time, energy and money measuring something that is unimportant.

For organizations new to business intelligence and analytics, determining what to measure and why can be a daunting task. If the analytics manager asks senior management, he or she will find no shortage of opinions. This leaves the manager right where he or she started.

Public healthcare reporting draws a mixed response from healthcare providers. For some providers, public reporting is an irritant. It creates work and causes the company’s analytics function to twist the data to meet the required format. It recurs every month or quarter and is seen by many as costly.

Other organizations view public reporting of their measures as evil. Their measures are so poor that they are embarrassed constantly by the bright, glowing red numbers next to their organizations’ names. Others simply do not report in, but the words “N/A” or “Not Reported” make it even worse. In this case, it makes the organization look guilty of extremely bad results, or simply sloppy in terms of being able to report in by the submission date.

But some organizations see public reporting as a good thing. These organizations have their houses in order. They are clinically effective and have information services with sufficient discipline to get the numbers in on time, and have a coherent data reporting strategy. These organizations have great numbers and usually lead the pack.

Regardless of where you stand on public reporting of healthcare metrics, there are a number of ways to use this reporting to your advantage. But first, let’s take a look at the healthcare measurement landscape.

Healthcare Measurement Landscape

Reporting organizations, also known as health information exchanges (HIEs), regional health information organizations (RHIOs) or collaboratives/communities come in all shapes and sizes. There is no consistent pattern. Some are statewide, others are state regions. Still others are connected by similar operational natures such as similar size, similar types of patient groups or similar practices. The most common type is a geographic subset of a state.

Since I live in Wisconsin and we take pride in our excellent healthcare, I am going to use the Wisconsin Collaborative for Healthcare Quality (WCHG) as my example to show how to use public reporting to your advantage. I recommend you visit WCHQ’s website for a closer look. By the way, I have no direct connection with the collaborative. I simply think it is a prime example of how to do things right and a key resource for your analytics function. For the remainder of this article, I will illustrate points with WCHQ examples.

Figure 1: WCHQ Performance and Progress Report

Six Ways to Use Public Reporting to Your Advantage

  1. Buying Analytical Information

    The most obvious way to use public reporting is to become a member of a reporting organization and purchase analytical data. This is one of their key functions, and the normative data you can obtain can often be tailored to your specific business questions. For example, if your organization wants to better understand diabetes, asthma or congestive heart failure, these organizations can offer aggregated data to drill into for benchmarks.

  2. Collaborating with Fellow Members

    Membership also gives you an inside track to learning from fellow members. There are three types of learning.. First, this learning can be inbound (you learn something). Second, it can be shared (you both learn something), or third, it can be outbound (they learn something). Outbound learning (actually teaching) gives you a non-obvious advantage in that you get a chance to validate your internal practices, especially if the receiver asks insightful questions that you might not have considered.

  3. Learning Analytical Methods from Public Reporting Organization

    These organizations must understand how to manage data in order to survive, as most are non-profit collaborations relying on government funding, academic grants and member support. Your organization can benefit by learning how they consolidate massive amounts of data, organize it and resolve issues in submitted data or in calculations to produce analytical information.

  4. Starting Point for Every Metric

    When working to improve performance within the organization, it is often helpful to understand what is being measured outside the organization. Public reporting of aggregated healthcare measures gives you a laundry list of metrics as well as a point at which to start measuring internal performance. For example, say you want to measure breast cancer screening as part of improving your women’s health practice. You can find out what is being measured (e.g., percent of eligible population screened), how it is calculated and what the results are across member organizations. Is 80% good, great or poor? Should you set your sights on 90% or is this out of reach? You can learn all of this using public reporting.

  5. Increasing Internal Awareness of Analytics

    Healthcare professionals are extremely busy people, regardless of their function. This is true of both clinical and non-clinical professionals. Public healthcare performance measures give your people a quick snapshot of your organization’s performance – their performance as a group –specific to their specialties. For example, let’s say you are setting goals to improve patient experience and want to give your clinic office staff a view of how important certain factors are to patients. The reporting on WCHQ’s site offers information on what to measure (e.g., ability to get appointments when needed, helpfulness scores, effectiveness of doctor-patient communications, etc.) as well as how to judge success (e.g., effective doctor-patient communications scores are based on a scale). This tells your people what is important and where to focus their efforts.

  6. Increasing External Awareness of Your Successes

    Similarly, the outside world now knows how you stack up in comparison to your peers. How are you doing on various chronic care measures, preventive care measures, efficiency measures or patient-centeredness measures? Public reporting can show you this. For the leaders, this is good input to marketing messages and often ends up on the organization’s website. For laggards, this can provide the impetus to propel internal analytical efforts to avoid embarrassment.

Next Steps

Public reporting of healthcare performance measures is only going to grow in terms of volume, and certainly in terms of importance to payers, purchasers and patients. Submitting data can add extra burden to your analytics and informatics staff. But if you use the aggregated results correctly, you can get back more than you put in.It can propel your business intelligence efforts like few other business drivers can. Use it to your advantage.

Thanks for reading!

  • Scott WanlessScott Wanless

    Scott is the Healthcare Analytics Director for Cipe Consulting Group. He has more than 30 years of experience in business intelligence strategic planning, analytics application development and business analysis across numerous industries including hospitals, physician groups, healthcare payers, laboratory research, insurance, lending, manufacturing, retail and state government. Scott can be reached at scott.wanless@cipeconsulting.com.

    Editor's note: More healthcare articles, resources, news and events are available in the BeyeNETWORK's Healthcare Channel featuring Scott Wanless and Laura Madsen.

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