Jeff Maze has spent his career attempting to solve the conundrum at the core of business intelligence and analytics: the more data there is, the harder it is for operational leaders to understand and act upon. “Everyone has data. This is the era of big data,” Maze, who is senior manager of business intelligence at Zotec Partners, says. “But data does not mean the same thing as information. The key is taking data and making it timely and actionable, baking your own insight and experience into it, and turning it into wisdom.”
In fact, Maze says, how data is visualized may prove to be as critical a strategic consideration as the use of data itself. “Anyone can throw together a trend chart,” he notes. “Not everyone can visualize data in a way that provides meaning. Dumping data on someone versus serving it up thoughtfully is a major change. You can easily lose your audience, and thus your impact on decision-making, when you present this information without knowing how best to show it.”
To illustrate his point, Maze provides examples of displays from the proprietary decision support system he helped develop for Zotec Partners, known as cZAR. The system takes a practice’s financial information and visualizes it in dashboards and other graphics that are designed by Maze to display complex information in a digestible manner. “The display of information should be a clear portrayal of complexity,” Maze notes.
This screen is the first a user sees when logging into the cZAR system. Multiple facets of financial performance are visualized, from those seen above to charges as a percentage of the practice’s financial goal, denials and average days in accounts receivable.
In this view, Maze explains, the tracking of open accounts receivable is made interactive. The user has the ability to zoom into certain time frames and drill down on specific, unresolved claims in order to take action on those items.
In this view, charge dollars and counts over the last several years of a practice’s billings are monitored in a visualization style inspired by the stock market. Users can view charge dollars by date of service, charge creation date and claim filing date.
This view, Maze says, is a display of the past twelve months of actual charge dollars, as well as the current month’s run rate and its end of month projection, shown both in terms of insurance and guarantor dollars.
Maze emphasizes that these displays were designed with usability and fast-paced decision-making in mind. “Our goal was to merge the analytic capabilities of Yahoo! finance, the interaction and collaboration of Facebook, and the beauty and ease of use of Apple, all into one centralized decision making application,” he says. “The tool needed to be robust enough to cover the increasingly complex world of health-care, yet be simple enough that a new user could pick it up and navigate the tool in a matter of minutes.”
As practices continue to refine their approaches to business intelligence, Maze predicts that more attention will be paid to usability. “Every practice by now has several years’ worth of data in its system, but if you’re viewing it as an operational person, you need it to be easy to understand,” he says. “Data should have an impact. People need to make their decisions based on it, to develop their strategies around it. There may be hardcore math concepts at work behind the scenes, but at the end of the day, what users care about is whether a data element is important enough for them to act on it.”
Cat Vasko is editor of MedPracticeBiz and associate editor of Radiology Business Journal.