Data Visualization in Healthcare: Driving Real-Time Actionable Insights

Dipti Patel-Misra, Ph.D., MBA, PCC, Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Vituity
Dipti Patel-Misra, Ph.D., MBA, PCC, Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Vituity

Dipti Patel-Misra, Ph.D., MBA, PCC, Chief Data & Analytics Officer, Vituity

The healthcare industry faces three significant forces that require a reshaping of healthcare delivery: a drive towards efficiency in healthcare as it becomes more commoditized, an increased focus on realignment towards quality and pay-for-performance, and lastly thetrend of providers, rather than third-party payers, increasing their acceptance of financial risk for patient care.

The structure of the U.S. healthcare system places the decisions around diagnosis, evaluation, treatment, and management, in the domain of the licensed medical professional, generally a physician. For this reason, medications cannot be prescribed, imaging cannot be performed, and patients cannot be hospitalized without an order from a licensed healthcare professional. Although this healthcare delivery system is based on physician orders for medical care, physicians have been largely absent from the design and implementation of data and technological solutions. To drive significant improvement in quality and cost efficiency, tools and solutions that improve the healthcare delivery model are critical.

Along with this transformation, healthcare continues to see an explosion of a large variety of data from a number of sources. With this increased focus on value, quality,and cost-effectiveness, healthcare organizations have turned to data analytics and visualization for solutions. Current technology has the potential to actualize the potential of “big data” in those solutions.

The following article describes Vituitydata team’s insight as they strive to transform care delivery.

Challenges for Healthcare Data Teams

Despite the significant potential of data analytics to provide meaningful solutions to the healthcare industry, results to date have been limited and disappointing. Not only have analytics and technology failed to produce a return on investment (ROI) financially, but the technological focus of the solution development and subsequent intervention has eroded the patient-physician relationship, decreased operational efficiency, jeopardized patient safety, worsened the patient experience, and have refocused the delivery of healthcare on technology and tools rather than the patient.

The lack of a ROI from data is not generally because of a limitation in the visualization or analytic abilities of enterprises. The barrier to generating a ROI is the lack of actionable data: the data must drive a clear action/choice that results in a tangible return. The goal of data visualization is to make a higher value action/choice intuitively clear and compelling to the user.

Historically, data was utilized to create simple reports. These charts and tables helped createoperational, financial, and other strategic insights. However, historical insights are limited in their ability to support process change at the individual level. Thus, visualization must evolve from allowing discovery of insights gleaned from historical data to the real-time support of processes.

Addressing the Business Need

Healthcare is notoriously full of significant inefficiency,but current technology often hampers current processes rather than facilitating new and better processes. Healthcare processes have grown up ina complex, high-risk, and highly individualized system of doctors, nurses, facilities, payers, patients, and diverse regulatory bodies. In such an ecosystem, convoluted processes have emerged and acquired inertia that is difficult to overcome. As technology has been introduced, the sacred processes have been largely maintained or electronically simulated.

Identifying the appropriate process to target for improvement requires a deep understanding of the process, the goals of the process, and the pros/cons of alternative processes. The physician, as the licensed provider of care, is in an important position to have this insight. However, physicians generally lack sophisticated data science training to translate raw data into insights. 

Those with expertise and experience in the healthcare clinical processesneed a visualization that allows an intuitive understanding of the current process and how changes in this workflowcandrive efficiency and eliminate waste. A successful visualization is one that is so seamless that a user does not notice the tool,butrather is focused on the insight. But why are visualizations so valuable? Visualizations represent insights from data which can lead to a business impact. With the significant data being generated in healthcare, it is critical to use the right tools to tell the story of what happened, why it happened, and how to manage desired changes. These outcomes are great insights that will help healthcare organizations gain operational and clinical insights and achieve their goals. Once the insight of how things could happen is understood, data tools are then needed to drive the change management process.

Real-Time Decision Support Tools

The insights gleaned from analysis of historical reportsis only the first step. Realizing an ROI requires leveraging those insights into new and improved processes with higher value actions/decisions.

Historically, this change management in response to data insights followed a typical personnel change management approach. However, data tools provide the opportunity to create a more effective, less expensive, and faster change management paradigm.

These solutions can create profound behavior change without the traditionally slow and expensive change management process. The key to driving the transformation is providing the right information at the right time in an intuitive way that resonates with the user. Simply put, data visualization alone does not drive value. Value is realized when the data visualization drives a process, a change in process, or a new action. The best data visualizations are seamlessly integrated into a process so that they are a tool to best do a job, not just a cool technology.

Access Makes for Success

For a visualization to be a useful tool, it must be used. Critical for success are solutions that can easily be accessed on a mobile device, are quick to consume and act upon, and featurepush notifications or appropriate alerts. Take the Google Maps example: it provides a push notification to alert when to leave – combining visual, textual and verbal queues that are easily accessed on either desktop or mobile devices.

Bidirectional Tools

The underlying analyticsthatdrives a solution, whether it is a predictive or prescriptive model,can leverage information collected by end-users to help drive continuous improvement. Tools that provide a framework to allow users to enter information in real time or near real time are able to drive rapid cycle enhancements and offer significantly enhanced value.

Making Visualization Actionable

The explosion of available data presents healthcare organizations with both challenges and opportunities. Skillful data analytics and visualization can guide both business decisions and clinical care.

For optimal results, tools should be easily accessible in real-time, easy to understand, and focused around the end-users and their needs. Allowing users to enter their own data and provide feedback can enhance the tool’s effectiveness over time. An example of such a solution is a real-time tracker board that provides near real-time insight into an emergency room patient’s needs. By integrating a write-back loop with the tool, a physician’s feedback can improve the specific recommended interventions - ultimately leading to improved outcomes, enhanced patient satisfaction rates, and reduced costs.

Creating actionable data solutionsis by no means easy and demands considerable time and resources. However, the investment very often pays off, whether the project is handled in-house or outsourced. In addition to improving patient care and boosting revenue, data analytics and visualization can help administrators gain buy-in for change, which propels all organizations forward. 

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