Using Data Analytics to Drive Performance: Start with the Low-hanging Fruit

By Haley Nuckols

Healthcare has a reputation for lagging behind other industries in the area of digital transformation, especially in terms of adopting business technologies. Data analytics, in particular, is a technological innovation with which healthcare organizations sometimes wrestle. Although many entities see the value in using big data to make more informed decisions, they often don’t have well-considered strategies for applying the technology to everyday challenges.  

Focus on easy wins first

There are many opportunities to leverage data for better decision making, and some are more complex than others. One relatively straightforward undertaking involves using the rich data an organization collects as part of its electronic medical record and practice management systems to inform routine business functions. For example, when organizations use data to improve processes like patient communications, scheduling and marketing, they can optimize workflow, boost patient and provider satisfaction and increase revenue.  

Enabling focused patient communications

It used to be that patients rarely had a preference on how they communicated with their providers. However, times are changing as patients become savvier healthcare consumers. Now, individuals are often partial to one type of communication over another. Perhaps they like the down-to-business nature of electronic communications, or maybe they prefer the more personal telephonic options. They may respond more positively to texted appointment reminders versus phone calls or letters in the mail. Organizations can use data analytics to determine their patients’ communication preferences, learning not just how but when they respond to outreach. For example, if certain patients are more likely to attend an appointment after receiving a text reminder, then the organization can make sure those patients are sent reminders via text. Similarly, if a number of patients schedule appointments after getting the organization’s newsletter that includes wellness tips and care advice, then the organization can regularly send the newsletter to those patients who are most likely to respond well to it. By leveraging data to target patient communications, providers can better meet individuals’ specific preferences while ensuring a positive response to outreach. 

Smoothing scheduling and workflows

Provider frustration and burnout is a mounting problem for healthcare organizations, which can lead to staff dissatisfaction, productivity slowdowns, high turnover and other problems. Overscheduling and double booking combined with inefficient workflows are limiting providers’ time with patients, which is a key factor in the escalating burnout crisis. By using analytics to evaluate and optimize appointment schedules, organizations can build in time for physicians, nurses and other staff to compassionately interact with patients and complete necessary care tasks without feeling rushed or overwhelmed. Moreover, entities can proactively adjust schedules based on a review of physician time spent in the office, appointment length, days of the week preferences and other patterns to develop a schedule that optimizes physician and staff productivity and satisfaction. 

Organizations can also look at data to see if there are workflow inefficiencies that warrant improvement. Based on the results of this review, the organization may decide to redesign processes to help providers work more at the top of their licenses or introduce technology to enhance efficiencies. In some cases, an organization may decide to provide additional training and education to improve staff performance with certain tasks and ensure proper execution. 

Pinpointing revenue opportunities 

An effective way to overcome the small margins that most healthcare organizations face is to identify possible strategies for increasing revenue. For those organizations offering elective procedures, such as specialty practices, it is valuable to use data to gain a full understanding ofpatient onramps, including the most popular procedures, the most profitable ones, top physician referral sources and more. Based on the data, organizations can determine whether there are opportunities to augment or diversify offerings. They can also decide how to focus marketing strategies and promotion efforts to realize the biggest return on investment. 

Information on referral sources can guide outreach. Organizations can send specialized communications to top referring partners to solidify relationships. They can also work to build referrals from other areas that may be underdeveloped.  

It’s easier than you think

Leveraging data analytics to improve business operations and enhance satisfaction does not have to be complex. By using solutions that are embedded in electronic health records and practice management technology, organizations can seamlessly incorporate data into decision making and ensure their improvement efforts are designed to effectively meet patient and organization needs. 

Haley Nuckols is senior VP of professional services, for Nextech.

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