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November/December 2019

Opening the Door to Data
By Selena Chavis
For The Record
Vol. 31 No. 10 P. 18

Self-service analytics is expanding data access to more health care professionals and even consumers.

Access to data sits at the heart of health care’s mission to improve quality outcomes and control costs. EHRs serve as the foundation for collecting and storing key patient data electronically, and, over the past decade, advancements in analytics infrastructures are providing the health care industry with deeper insights into its data assets to inform decision making.  

Liam Bouchier, principal with Impact Advisors, defines analytics at the basic level as “the result of some processing of data from a statistical standpoint to give you some new information.” Until recently, multidisciplinary care teams, financial leaders, and operations directors have relied heavily on IT departments, data scientists, and other trained professionals to help them interpret data. Today, a new approach—self-service analytics—is emerging that allows those with limited technical ability to leverage data more independently.

Notably, Gartner predicts that this alternative approach to traditional business intelligence will make up 80% of all enterprise reporting by 2020.

According to a recent report from Deloitte, self-service analytics allows non-IT professionals to access simplified interfaces and tools, expanding a health care organization’s ability to extract value from data in a timely way. “Empowering Insight-Driven Health Care Organizations With Self-Service Analytics” suggests that “Many health care organizations do not yet have the technology, processes, or expertise to realize the potential benefits of analytics. Decision makers across the health care enterprise are looking for relevant, actionable information from a variety of sources to make timely strategic and operational decisions. However, limited IT resources, legacy systems, lengthy approval processes, and conflicting priorities can be barriers to meeting these needs.”

This expanded approach to data analysis also aligns with health care’s consumerism movement, according to Raj Sharma, CEO of Health Wizz.

“Some of the trends we see in the industry, clearly because of consumerism and the rising cost of health care, is that there is a big jump in awareness. Consumers are saying, ‘I want to shop around for health care, but I can’t because I don’t have the data to shop around,’” he says. “In this case, I think the Department of Health and Human Services has done a good job in making people aware that it is really in your best interest to take control of your health data … and mandating hospitals and insurance companies to make that data available to the members. Some of these things are aligning in a very interesting way.”

Robyn Stambaugh, MS, RHIA, director of HIM practice excellence at AHIMA, agrees, noting that the industry has been migrating toward a more patient-centric system to advance value-based health care and population health management.

“I think where we see patients really taking control of their health care in terms of early adoption and technology is now consumers can search for their own health care, they can analyze the scoring on hospitals and providers—they can look and get that type of feedback,” she says. “They have options now to get access to new treatments in the galleries for care that maybe they never knew about and now have an opportunity to explore. And I think they can do some tracking and sharing of their data, which clearly people are doing.”

The Technology of Self-Service Analytics
The Deloitte report states that self-service analytics requires the use of “agile methods and modern technology to automate data access, preparation, consumption, and analysis.” In other words, technological advances are allowing health care organizations to create a user-friendly, simplified approach to data analysis that replaces the rigid templates and complicated tools that previously created barriers to broad understanding and access to knowledge. Tools exist that enable users to create customized sets of data, queries, and reports on demand without having to call on resource-strapped IT departments.

Bouchier says early uses of self-service analytics have been concentrated on advancing data-driven processes within health care organizations without taxing busy, often understaffed IT departments. “If you think about the types of people in a hospital who need data to make decisions on a daily basis, it’s pretty much everybody,” he points out. “But traditionally you would find those people—even five years ago—in IT.”

The introduction of an integrated electronic record helped expand that function, Bouchier notes. “The big EMRs that were implemented in the last 10 to 20 years integrate information to all aspects and functions within the hospital, from facilities all the way through to medical care. So, data became much more important because it was being presented at all levels, all workflows within a health care setting,” he says.

As clinical and financial leaders across health systems increasingly wanted access to data insights to inform mission-critical activities, tools such as Tableau and Microsoft Power BI began to enter the market to help simplify the process of sending and interacting with data. These tools, which put querying capabilities into the hands of the end user in an easy-to-use format, took a lot of the technical components of data analysis out of the equation.

Bouchier notes that these advancements allow health care organizations to standardize information and push it out to end users so that everyone in the organization is working from the same page. “The most important thing that goes along with self-service tools is data governance. [The technology] allows the organizations to standardize what it was that they publish [and] agree on what they publish, which is a very important thing to do,” he says.

Authors of the Deloitte report point to the functionality that characterizes a modern self-service platform, noting that it should allow for the following:

• ingesting data across multiple sources, both structured and unstructured, in “right time”;

• storing, preparing, and provisioning large volumes of disparate data to service analytical requirements;

• serving data to the business in an intuitive consumable format through a flexible and easy-to-use interface;

• managing the quality, integrity, and availability of the data through robust governance; and

• empowering the user community through training, adoption, and analytics enablement.

Evolving Use Cases
Self-service analytics is driving notable efficiencies in today’s health care organizations across a variety of use cases. The Deloitte report details one case study in which an agile, collaborative approach to supply chain analysis powered by self-service analytics resulted in notable improvements in one health care organization.

Whereas previous dependencies on IT and manual efforts resulted in missed cost-savings opportunities, the move to automated data preparation, advanced analytics, data visualization, and mobile technologies allows supply chain analysts to access data and identify trends to inform cost-containment strategies with minimal IT support.

Bouchier points to significant opportunities to leverage self-service analytics within population health initiatives. For example, blood pressure monitoring devices allow care coordinators and patients to share information more regularly without a patient having to come into the office. “That’s one cool way of extending self-service analytics to the consumer,” Bouchier says. “There is resources savings on both sides, and patients can provide information on a real-time basis to providers.”

As “consumers of health care,” Bouchier adds that patients want real-time access to their test and lab results. “Rather than going in to visit my doctor, I can take those vitals at home on a device that’s connected to my electronic medical record,” he says, noting that digital health transformation is already changing how health care stakeholders interact with patients.

In the same way, providers can use self-service analytics to expand chronic disease management to preventive care. “Imagine if you were able to gather and encourage people—talking about behaviors—to eat healthier or exercise more or manage their weight better before they actually have an issue. That’s really where we want to get to as an industry, and I know a number of health systems are developing their own apps, their own tools for engaging the consumer directly to do that,” Bouchier says, noting consumers are increasingly demanding better digital experiences, like those offered through Amazon or Apple. “Health systems are starting to realize that they really should be helping the consumer better understand their own information in their records.”

In line with these trends, companies such as Health Wizz are gaining traction through the introduction of technology that empowers consumers with their data through self-service analytics. Nitin Desai, Health Wizz’s president and chief medical officer, emphasizes that, particularly when it comes to health care, the government is focusing on data ownership.

“A lot of people are surprised to learn that their hospital record is owned by a hospital,” he says. “I’m a physician at a very large health system in North Carolina, and if I get admitted to my own hospital and have a colonoscopy, I cannot look up my own colonoscopy record as a physician with access to medical records because it is owned by the hospital.”

The company’s My Health Index app is one of a growing number of connectivity platforms on the market that aim to change that dynamic by allowing patients to store their medical records, connect with hospitals and physician offices, and participate in clinical trials and wellness initiatives.

Through a marketplace that allows pharmaceutical and research companies and others to communicate with consumers, apps are featuring provider engagement incentives to promote wellness for any clinical activity or, notably, for patients to earn cryptocurrency for contributing their health data for research purposes.

“CVS and Walmart and other pharmacies don’t make money by selling you medicine. They are making money by selling your data. There’s no law that prevents them from selling the data,” Desai explains, noting that the removal of certain elements makes health data instantly HIPAA compliant. “Consumers are not aware that their health record may be worth $400 in this black market of deidentified data, and it is being given away without their consent, without their knowledge, without them getting the benefit.”

Desai believes that consumers will increasingly demand more control of how these data are used. For example, a patient may want his or her data used for dementia research while another may target multiple sclerosis. “You can use that data more efficiently, more effectively for your own wellness,” Desai says. “There are better way of using your data. I think it’s more about education, availability of technology, and more awareness of what is really happening with health care data in 2019.”

Forward Looking
Bouchier believes self-service tools will become increasingly more generic as adoption continues to grow. “I think the analysis is going to become more widespread, and I think that the online, large tech companies are going to make a huge investment and play in this area,” he predicts. “I would not be entirely surprised if in five years I was seeing elements of my health care information appearing in my Amazon account, for example, or in my Google account, or in my Apple account.”

Bouchier cites several large partnership announcements and investments that portend things to come. For example, last year Amazon Web Services released Amazon Comprehend Medical, a user-friendly application that helps health care organizations understand and analyze information that is often in free-form, unstructured medical text.

In September of this year, Google and Mayo Clinic announced a partnership to store patient data in the cloud and build products using artificial intelligence and other technologies to improve care. It’s part of a 10-year agreement that Google says “is a testament” to the company’s expanding role in the US health care system.

“Those companies are bringing a lot of their capabilities to bear, and I do expect that the information is going to be outside of the hospital walls,” Bouchier says. “And it’s going to be in your hands as the end user and the consumer of it. So, it should be interesting to see how all this evolves.”

Selena Chavis is a Florida-based freelance journalist whose writing appears regularly in various trade and consumer publications, covering everything from corporate and managerial topics to health care and travel.