The One With the Most Data Wins
Well, almost: Virtually every practice or hospital has tons of raw data. Getting data is not the issue. The real issue is having the knowledge and skill to interpret the data and develop strategies based on the stories told deep within data catacombs. This is what separates level 5 performers from the crowd. Increasingly, referral-dependent health-care providers of all types are facing unprecedented levels of competition and pressure to outperform those intent on encroaching on their turf. The concept of the boundaryless enterprise is taking root in every region, often with remarkable effectiveness. The result is that the old rules of engagement have changed drastically. Just a few short years ago, it would have been unheard of for the once predictable, somewhat genteel practice of radiology to morph into a constantly tense and unpredictable beast, often lashing out in a crisis-management, reactive way. In order to prevent the profession from becoming something akin to a scene from Lord of the Flies, the metaphorical novel by Sir William Golding (1911–1993)—replete with internecine conflict and overreaction based on extreme self-interest—it is important for today’s providers to move forward based on the highly structured and well-understood concepts of business (main-line business, not hedge-fund business), honed through years of adaptation to the competitive environment. Without question, that competition makes organizations better. Just look at what monopolies do to customer service. How do you compete and win in this environment? In a word, analytics: Successful businesses in every category rely on the information contained in their various data pods to interpret and predict the actions of markets, consumers, their own organizations, and (most important) their competitors. Data can be rich—but only as good as an organization’s ability to build upon data. Practices need to analyze situations based on referral data and strategize based on trends revealed by metrics and other measurement tools that an analytics approach will contain. Here is a typical scenario without analytics: “I say we grow,” one partner says. “I say we stick to our knitting,” another says. “I say we buy real estate.” “I say we compete with the hospital.” “I say we partner with the hospital.” “I say we merge.” “I say we remain independent to the last man.” “I say we start a teleradiology business.” You get the picture: It’s a bit of anarchy based on what are often emotional responses to fairly straightforward options. Meanwhile, the smart competitor across town has been implementing a strategic plan based on analytics, including clinical and financial data; demographics; utilization trends; payor data; modality forecast models; propensity forecasting; billing trends; referrals by site, physician, modality, specialty, disease state, and so forth; and competitive intelligence, among other key points. Yes, the delivery of health care is special, but it is still a business model. Money (lots of it) changes hands, and buyers connect with sellers; consumers and other stakeholders—such as employees—have a vested interest in the success of the enterprise. This success is increasingly dependent on the ability of owners/managers to run their enterprises based on the principles and models of good business. That means dependence on (and use of) analytics, not just generation of mounds of data. How do you make this happen? First, become your own CEO. Think like a chief executive, and empower those around you to look for ways to use the data that you have—probably gathering dust in a binder on a shelf (along with the last three strategic plans that never quite got implemented). Next, put someone in charge of defining what analytics could mean for your enterprise. Take this effort seriously. Use the data to support key decisions. Lead the team by asking the tough questions that only a robust use of key analytics could answer. Stop measuring the success of your data by sheer volume. Put data to work for you. Curtis Kauffman-Pickelle is publisher of and the Radiology Business Journal, and is a 30-year veteran of the medical imaging industry. He facilitates strategic planning retreats for radiology groups.