Australia still at first stage of health analytics journey

If you think of health analytics as a journey with four key stages – capture, share, understand, and act – Australian healthcare organisations will quickly tell you they are still at the first stage of that journey.

It also becomes clear why, despite capturing huge volumes of patient data, healthcare organisations are not getting the value they feel they should from this strategic asset.

As part of efforts to understand the need for health analytics, InterSystems recently teamed up with Mal Thatcher, CIO of Mater Health Services in Queensland, to co-moderate a roundtable session at a Sydney eHealth event.

Amongst the senior-level delegates from a broad range of healthcare organisations there was general agreement that there is a proliferation of patient data now being captured electronically across the healthcare industry and that the adoption of electronic health records has played a key role.

However, delegates said they are not getting the value they should from this strategic asset. Data quality is an issue at many organisations, making it difficult to extract value and creating issues of trust when attempting to do so.

This frustration with health analytics is understandable given where organisations find themselves. Breakthrough benefits occur when organisations move into the realm of understanding and acting upon their data – all of the data, including structured as well as unstructured, since up to 80 per cent of healthcare data is unstructured in the form of clinical notes, images, etc.

Being able to conduct real-time analysis on transactional data, which then triggers action – in the form of initiating processes, alerts, notifications and recommendations – unlocks massive cost-saving and quality of care benefits.

However, of 18 delegates surveyed, half characterised their organisation as still being at the capture stage. Silos of information were cited as an all-too-common problem, not only between different organisations, but within individual organisations themselves.

When asked about the key opportunities for analytics in healthcare, the most popular response was analysis of clinical information to improve outcomes. There were some good examples of this starting to take place but they tended to be isolated projects.

Even the more progressive organisations saw themselves as very early on the journey, with frequent analogies made to other industries that were much further along in their capabilities.

Respondents felt that the greatest barrier to adoption of analytics is a lack of understanding of its importance or lack of funding. Lack of interoperability of systems and common terminologies was also raised in almost every roundtable group.

Many delegates felt that the current focus on analytics in their organisations was driven by increasing statutory reporting requirements, which were cumbersome to fulfil with the existing IT infrastructure and didn’t necessarily contribute to better care.

Most organisations lacked a single clinical data repository so there are multiple versions of the truth and getting at data is difficult. Mater Health Services was one of the few organisations to have a single clinical data repository upon which to conduct analytics across the organisation.

Being able to identify groups of patients that meet certain criteria and have that then trigger action was viewed as a key step toward better care, but delegates felt their organisations struggled to automate this.

Instead, health IT executives and their staff currently devote extensive resources to plugging together multiple disparate systems in use across their network, and still much of the data is inaccessible.

There was general agreement about the value of enabling care providers and executives to drill down into real-time data and spot trends and problems without needing to work through IT intermediaries to identify what has already happened.

In these situations the business intelligence teams are reliant on the business asking the right questions, but we need to equip the business with the tools to undertake their own discovery.

Executives often make assumptions (often incorrect) about which information will drive changes in clinical practice instead of empowering care providers to participate in this process.

Listening to the experiences of healthcare organisations, despite all the frustrations, there was common excitement about the potential for analytics capabilities to transform healthcare delivery.

However, we are very early on the journey and developing compelling use cases for investment in the infrastructure required is a common goal we need to achieve before this potential can be fully realised.

Lindsay Kiley is the marketing director of InterSystems Asia Pacific.

Posted in Australian eHealth

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