VOLUME 2, ISSUE 3: The Contrasts Between Managing and Leading

Perfecting Your Practice

Making Use of Big Data

The benefits of leveraging health care data in practice management.

Cristy Good, MPH, MBA, CPC, CMPE

At A Glance
  • Analyzing health care data can reveal patterns and trends and lead to a better understanding and prediction of human behavior.
  • Data analytics can allow organizations to identify problems before it is too late and increase efficiencies.
  • EHRs and other data solutions can help to create efficiencies in retina practices through benchmarking with key indicators.

The term big data has been around since 2005, but the volume of data in health care has spiked significantly over the past few years as organizations have transitioned to electronic health records (EHR) and as the use of applications to support and store these data has grown. Health care organizations increasingly rely on analytics tools, cloud-based solutions, medical devices and wearables, medical imaging, and other health-related applications as the field continues on a path toward value-based care.

This article outlines some of the uses of big data in medicine and suggests ways that retina practices and others can take advantage of this type of information to improve health care delivery.

THE IMPACT OF BIG DATA

The benefit of acquiring, analyzing, and leveraging vast amounts of health care data is in the ability of the data to reveal patterns and trends that can lead to better understanding and prediction of human behavior. The effective use of these data can allow providers and retina practices to make more informed health care and financial decisions and provide better treatments. This can ultimately lead to providing a higher level of patient care.

With providers and payers generating and collecting data from a growing list of sources, the amount of overall data will continue to increase, requiring many health care organizations to increase their investments in big data analytics. In a poll of approximately 1,300 medical practices in March, 84% of respondents said they use benchmarking data to improve practice operations (Figure).1 Adopting the use of data analytics methods such as these can allow organizations to identify problems before it is too late and to increase efficiency by providing a clear view into financial operations, staffing, inventory, medical records, patient engagement, and so on.

POTENTIAL CHALLENGES AND BENEFITS

Challenges

The growth of data use in health care may occur more slowly than in other fields because of the challenges health care organizations will face as they strive to meet government-mandated HIPAA policies, find effective storage and security options, and learn how to effectively capture and utilize the vast amount of disorganized data that exists.

Benefits

There are several ways in which big data could transform the health care industry over the long term, potentially affecting the way patient care is delivered:

  • Effective use of data analytics has the potential to reduce the costs of treatment by improving patient outcomes, as information on outcomes specific to treatments are analyzed through data-driven findings;
  • The use of predictive analytics tools can improve the delivery of care through the gathering of EHR data. Physician decisions increasingly rely on evidence-based research and clinical data;
  • Providers can assess methods and treatments faster, helping them develop a comprehensive picture of their patients. Treatment in early stages of a disease can reduce costs and improve overall outlook;
  • Patients can have greater access to professional care through applications on their smartphones or tablets;
  • The ability to easily share data among caregivers improves continuity of care, allowing more efficient treatment of patients while also potentially reducing costs;
  • Effective use of data can increase practice efficiencies, help to track inventory, analyze payer reimbursements for future contract negotiations, and more; and
  • Analyzing population-specific health data could help to identify risk factors for certain diseases and patient behaviors.

Figure. In a recent poll of medical practices, 84% of respondents said they use benchmarking data to improve practice operations.

CREATING EFFICIENCIES

The day-to-day operations of a retina practice require much time and patience to manage. From staffing and patient scheduling to technology infrastructure, there are many facets of operation to manage concurrently. Use of EHR and other data solutions can help to create efficiencies in a retina practice through benchmarking with key indicators, such as staffing ratios, financial performance, patient care, and patient satisfaction.

Through the practice’s information technology infrastructure, practice managers can implement patient reminders for follow-up appointments, create a patient portal for scheduling appointments, and institute a patient-accessible system for requesting refills. Other tools can allow managers to review staffing ratios, forecast visit rates, and see different staffing models, allowing them to ensure that clinics are staffed appropriately based on patient population and disease burden.

Improved efficiencies such as these can result in reduced patient wait times and more effective use of staff and office resources.

TAKING ADVANTAGE OF BIG DATA

Retina practices can benefit from the use of technologies such as EHRs, telemedicine, and the latest specialty-specific patient engagement applications. For example, retina practices can encourage their patients to use a patient portal, receive alerts from their EHR systems regarding lab results, and track prescriptions and possible drug interactions, all to improve the level of patient care.

Practice managers should educate and train staff members on the types of data to be gathered through EHR management software and other sources and explain to them the value of the data they are gathering. 

Practice managers can also educate themselves on the variety of smartphone and tablet applications that are available to patients. Use of such apps may help to improve care. In ophthalmology, for example, a recently introduced risk calculator app, Retina Risk (Risk Medical Solutions; available for Apple and Android systems), allows patients with diabetes to assess their risk of developing diabetic retinopathy.

EFFECTIVE IMPLEMENTATION OF BIG DATA SOLUTIONS

Retina practices should have full visibility into what an effective EHR platform can do. Third-party vendors can help with enhancements that might help to gather specific data. Other steps practices can take include these:

  • With management support, develop a clear vision of the objectives of implementing big data analytics;
  • Assess organizational readiness for change and develop a plan for implementation;
  • Determine data availability and quality: For data to be valuable, it must be the right data;
  • Create an infrastructure plan that includes data storage, management, and security: Storing and analyzing massive amounts of data requires a comprehensive technological infrastructure, including redundancy plans, high-capacity servers, and powerful processors;
  • Ensure that systems are secure by using analytics that can identify changes in network traffic or other behavior that might indicate a cyberattack;
  • Research third-party vendors who can partner with you on big data solutions;
  • Research compliance laws and regulations that govern individuals and communities’ privacy and security: Invest in human capital such as information technology experts, data scientists, data architects, and data engineers; and
  • Educate staff on how and why data are needed and how they will be used.

PREPARE FOR THE FUTURE

With the volume of data expected to increase and the health care industry in constant flux, practices must be prepared for the future. One way a retina practice can do this is by staying current with trends and advances in big data. Staying current with health care initiatives, guidelines, and requirements that necessitate effective use and interpretation of data will also put you at an advantage.

There will be a growing need for individuals trained to interpret vast amounts of data, as well as for systems that can store and allow those data to be accessed and analyzed in meaningful ways. There is also much work to be done to educate patients and providers on the uses and benefits of data in improving health care overall.

1. MGMA Stat. Use of Benchmarking Data. mgma.com/data/data-stories/the-power-of-benchmarking-data-for-healthcare-lead. March 19, 2019. Accessed July 31, 2019.