Analytics Delivering Quick ROI in Healthcare

Healthcare providers that phase advanced analytics into their operations are finding that the tools pay for themselves in a matter of months, according to a panel of experts speaking at the SAS Health Analytics Executive Conference today.

Nancy Zurell, data governance manager at Rochester, NY-based Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, addressed the conference remotely. She explained that Excellus had attempted to implement data governance strategies several times, with limited success.

What makes the current efforts different, she explained, is that Excellus is using an incremental approach that is driven by analytics.

"It's important to view this as an initiative, not a project," she said, and her governance campaign is a good example. The initial awareness campaign ran for a year, working to answer the employees' question of "why should we care?"

The best way to respond is by pointing to "quick wins," Zurell said, and at Excellus, that came in the form of better error management in billing statements. Using SAS DataFlux software, the claims department reviews all checks and statements twice a day before they're processed each evening. Since November, the improved accuracy has saved Excellus $682,000, Zurell said.

That kind of success puts data governance on management's radar, she explained, and the initiative can then work its way up from the initial stage to a subject-area focus to an enterprise-wide program. At this stage, Excellus has visual analytics in place to measure high-level processes such as claims processing, precertifications, payments, and documentation.

Going forward, Zurell said she sees use of these tools expanding over the next three to five years and "raising the corporate IQ."

The right move at the right time
At Cleveland Clinic, analytics help physicians make minute-by-minute decisions for their patients, said Eric Hixson, director of outcomes and analytics in business intelligence.

His initial success in using visual dashboards for performance management began as a proof of concept involving technology from HP, Microsoft, and SAS.

Healthcare dashboards provide instant insight and historical performance data.
Healthcare dashboards provide instant insight and historical performance data.

Hixson took the audience through the evolution of performance tracking from Excel-based spreadsheets in the mid-1990s to web-based delivery to the transition from monthly to daily reports. Once latency was reduced, he said, executives wanted to see scorecards that were combined from data sources across the enterprise and balanced to reflect various priorities. Putting that kind of information at management's fingertips via a web portal enabled Cleveland Clinic to "standardize the conversation," he said.

Today, however, 24 hours is far too long to wait for performance data. Hixson's team now collects data from Cleveland's electronic medical record (EMR) system in real-time and updates some dashboards at 10-minute intervals. "There's an appropriate window to get [healthcare tasks] done," he said, and the dashboards say, "This is our current state of every patient in the hospital and these are key processes that need to be done before that window closes."

Managers and physicians are using these dashboards to ensure that care is delivered in a timely fashion and to correct issues before they escalate. "We don't want to find out a month from now that there's a case that didn't get done, and then figure out what we can do in the future to change it."

Getting predictive
Hixson said the proof of concept has been a great success, and he aims to expand the role of analytics to achieve predictive and prescriptive benefits. His goals for Cleveland's business intelligence operation are:

  • Action-based decision making
  • Reduced development time and costs
  • "Model factory" capabilities
  • Automated performance monitoring for models

"We have a lot of forecasting models -- we're getting more and more," he said, adding that he'd like to target the ones that are least effective and remediate them quickly, with the overall aim of delivering accurate and compelling predictions. "I want to walk into a roomful of physicians and say, 'This is going to make things better on Thursday.' "

Members, can you point to any healthcare analytics "wins"? What would you like to see phased in at your healthcare provider?

— Michael Steinhart, Circle me on Google+ Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn pageFriend me on Facebook, Executive Editor,

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Michael Steinhart, Contributing Editor

Michael Steinhart has been covering IT and business computing for 15 years, tracking the rising popularity of virtualization, unified fabric, high-performance computing, and cloud infrastructures. He is editor of The Enterprise Cloud Site, which won the Least Imaginative Site Name award in 2012, and he managed, a community of IT professionals taking their first steps into cloud computing. From 2006 to 2012, Steinhart worked as an executive editor at Ziff Davis Enterprise, writing and managing research reports, whitepapers, case studies, magazine features, e-newsletters, blog posts, online videos, and podcasts. He also moderated and presented in dozens of webinars and virtual tradeshows. He got his start in IT journalism at CMP Media back in 1998, then moved to PC Magazine, managing the popular Solutions section and then covering business technology and consumer software. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communications/journalism from Ramapo College of New Jersey.

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Re: Best-practices
  • 5/19/2014 8:37:38 AM

If not SAS then certainly other uses of advanced analytics. The opportunities are too great to ignore, that's for sure.

Re: Best-practices
  • 5/18/2014 6:14:19 PM

If the speed up in performance management and catching billing errors is any indication of the widespread way analytics can improve healthcare ROI, it would seem SAS is going to be able to widely implement it's services in the industry.

Re: Best-practices
  • 5/15/2014 11:02:13 AM

I think we've seen more talk about data governance than deployment on an enterprise scale. However, I think that'll change -- is changing -- rapidly as companies become more analytical and reliant on data to drive decision making. They've got to have good governance and trust in the data in order to sustain data initiatives.

Re: Best-practices
  • 5/15/2014 10:45:18 AM

I said very much the same thing in a comment on your Canada Post post. If we're seeing the same ideas across industries, it's clear that they are critical steps -- the question is how many organizations are actually implementing them?


  • 5/15/2014 10:10:46 AM

Hi Michael. Excellus' data governance strategy seemed very similar to one I've talked about recently at Canada Post -- start small, with a specific business unit/project, and extend from there for the ultimate enterprise deployment. Seems that's a best-practice, no matter the industry!