Nobody Cares About Your Dashboard

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By Cara Cook

Thanks to technology, healthcare data is more accessible than ever. The Meaningful Use campaign, and the subsequent adoption of Electronic Health Records across the country contributed fields upon fields of new data to analyze. 

Over the last few years, we have become data rich. For the first time in centuries, we can support or dismiss anecdotal comments about operations that drive our success or failure. This enables improvement efforts that were not possible before and even allows the government to incentivize performance. 

There is, however, a downside. While the “Internet of Things” (IoT) has made big data available, supporting the utilization of AI, machine learning, and a surge in demand for data scientists, it has also made the consumption of data analytics overwhelming and headache-inducing for many. With an overabundance of data to consume, some healthcare leaders have become despondent. Cases of analysis paralysis mean that many well-intended and thoughtfully designed dashboards are rarely reviewed and sit unopened in leaders’ email inboxes.

This is such a missed opportunity, because analytics should be the key to identifying operational weaknesses and a springboard to inspire strategic improvements by C-suite executives and front-line leaders alike.

Best practices for driving results through dashboards:

APPROACHABLE – Choose three metrics to bring into focus for your target audience. These metrics should be displayed in a way that is immediately intuitive with meaningful comparisons. The best dashboards show how performance compares to peer performance, benchmarked goals, historical performance, and budget (when appropriate).

APPLICABLE – Ensure metrics relate to the daily work of recipients. If they don’t, you will lose their attention. In these cases, it makes more sense to separate metrics into multiple dashboards so that recipients receive metrics that are immediately relevant to them.

ACTIONABLE – If a report does not require action, reconsider the purpose of sharing the report. The best way to inspire action is to include best practices from departments that have successfully improved their metrics. Requiring an action plan—or having a senior leader request one—drives results. 

ACCESSIBLE – Unless your organization has a commonly used platform where leaders are very accustomed to retrieving information daily, dashboards should be pushed to emails of targeted users and their managers. If this is impossible, at least send a link for the dashboard to their email.

ACCURATE – While data accuracy is a minimum expectation, it is nothing to shrug off. Data errors are the quickest way to lose credibility. If you have successfully created a dashboard that is applicable and actionable, leaders may look for a reason to discredit your report. Publishing data errors enables this.  Ensure two or three reviews are in place to prevent publishing dashboards with errors.

ALIGNED – Vertical alignment with organizational goals is the simplest way to gain credibility and synergy around your dashboard. Leveraging organizational hype from strategic imperatives set by high-level executives can save you a lot of effort. Doing this creates synergy and ensures all applicable staff are doing their part to contribute to success while aligning your work with high-level organizational strategies. If you do this well, high-level executives will begin to consider your work a critical part of their leadership efforts to move the organization forward.  

AUDIENCE – Ensure the report is distributed to the appropriate audience, including recipients’ supervisors, to ensure appropriate visibility. Monitoring performance and measuring success at every level will support positive movement. 

ACCOUNTABILITY – If you take nothing else to heart, please hear that executives holding department leaders accountable to actionable metrics is the absolute key to moving the needle. If you are serious about improving a given metric, require an action plan. This provides an opportunity for you to coach recipients through improvement activities to achieve results. 

The Psychology Behind Successful Dashboards

While this may seem like a lot of tactics, the overarching philosophy is quite simple: Put yourself in a department manager’s position.  t won’t take long to see that, while they want to improve, they are very busy. If you overwhelm them with data, they won’t absorb it. If you make it too hard to find, they’ll never even see it. If it’s not relevant and they don’t know what to do with it, you’ve lost them. If the manager’s boss doesn’t know about it and isn’t seeing where they are performing compared to goal, they may not even care.  

While getting serious about improvement through publishing metrics can be stressful, it is very possible to inspire people to do more than just care about their performance. Through an effective dashboard strategy, you can position department leaders—and ultimately the organization as a whole—to achieve results that are well worth celebrating.

Cara Cook is an industry-leading expert in optimizing complex healthcare operations. As CEO of Cara Cook Consulting, she brings extensive experience in labor management, ER and OR throughput, length of stay management, patient flow, clinical process improvement, and margin improvement work. Ms. Cook and her team of industrial engineers work closely with hospitals, large academic medical centers, and healthcare systems, assessing current state operations to develop and execute customized solutions designed to improve margin while simultaneously making a positive impact on patient and provider experience.

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