Interview: Data Revolution in the Healthcare Industry

Transcript from a recent interview with Rick Hammer, M.D.

Rick Hammer, M.D. is the Interim CEO of SE Healthcare and a consultant for the Partners in Safety Program. He is a board certified physician with more than 20 years of experience in healthcare who has created practical solutions for health plans, employer groups, integrated medical systems, and private physician groups. Throughout the following conversation, Rick discusses the importance of data in the healthcare industry. Now that data is inseparable from almost any profession, healthcare providers need to figure out what type of data they must examine, how to do so and what to do with it after it’s been collected. Dr. Hammer shares his expertise with us on this topic.

SE Healthcare: Business is being driven by data, and healthcare is, in a way, at a crossroads when it comes to data and how organizations measure the patient experience and the effectiveness of their personnel. Some organizations are seriously bought in and focused on data, but many others are lagging. What’s the reason for this trend?

Rick Hammer: Nowadays, data is being used to track and monitor everything, especially in the healthcare industry. If you’re not utilizing data, you’re falling behind, and fast. Because of this, many organizations own it and leverage its value. On the other hand, there are still many organizations that haven’t bought into data and its potential. This could be due to the fact that not long ago, the only data available was through health insurance claims, which were unreliable. These were not particularly accurate, and frankly, inadequate. The measures were put together in order to maximize payments rather than to convey meaningful information. I do think that soon most healthcare organizations will discover the new forms of data accessible to them and will truly understand the benefits that data allows for.

SE Healthcare: Why is it so critical that healthcare organizations, from the largest of health systems to the smallest practices, get in line with the data revolution?

Rick Hammer: With improved collection and reporting methods, it is crucial to get in line with the data revolution. This is because without data, it’s almost impossible to validate how well a healthcare organization is performing. Collecting and analyzing the right information allows them to prove, without any reasonable doubt, what really is happening within the organization. It’s hard to make a statement and back it up without having legitimate proof. It’s also challenging to make significant changes without data either. If performance isn’t measured and interpreted through some form of data, it can’t be compared to anything to make adjustments.

Soon most healthcare organizations will discover the new forms of data accessible to them and will truly understand the benefits that data allows for.

SE Healthcare: The question then becomes, what data should these organizations be measuring? For those who’ve joined the data revolution, are they measuring the right type of data?

Rick Hammer: Healthcare organizations need to measure data that is unique to them and the individuals involved with them. Data collection really must be specialty-specific for it to be helpful. Yeah, measuring things like patient satisfaction and engagement is important to every provider of healthcare. But, other data is going to vary from one organization to the next. A dermatology group and a urology group should be collecting info that is very different. That’s why there has to be method of data collection for specialty-specific areas unique to each organization. For example, if you had to go to a urologist for a prostate biopsy, which physician would you choose to treat you? The physician who finds cancer cells 60% of the time and has them taken care of, or the one who finds them only 25% of the time? The answer is clear. Without the right data being collected, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate those physicians and make an informed decision.

SE Healthcare: Many organizations, especially smaller, independent practices, may feel they don’t have the resources to really collect and measure enough of the right data to really see any value in putting forth the effort. What advice do you give to practices that look at data as more of a burden than an asset?

Rick Hammer: As we’ve discussed earlier, if you’re not utilizing data, you’re falling behind the competition. Data is king nowadays and it’s being used in almost every aspect of business. Thinking that it’s not valuable because of size or resources is only going to hold healthcare providers back from attaining their highest levels of performance. My advice is to take some time to research who you should be working with to collect the right data for the right price and then start making connections with those people. There’s a ton of competition in the healthcare data industry with a great deal of options to choose from. And, many of them are reasonably priced. The value received will be plenty worth the time and money spent.

If they (physicians) want to refine the level of care they provide, they’re going to have to work closely with data.

SE Healthcare: Who should be responsible for managing the data? Obviously, there are different challenges and structures from health systems and hospitals to independent practices. Who should be responsible for measuring the data on each level?

Rick Hammer: Of course, this is also going to vary. Some healthcare organizations are enormous with thousands of providers and an entire administrative team, while others have only a few providers and one practice administrator. Those with a large administrative team typically have roles such as chief quality officer, chief medical officer, and chief safety officer. These individuals should definitely be involved in managing data, but so should the other administrative staff members like the CEO and COO. For those practices with only a few physicians and a practice administrator, the practice administrator should play a big role in managing the data. With that said, I believe the physicians themselves should be the most responsible individuals for managing the data. They’re the ones being monitored, and so they should stay on top of the data to see how they can improve based on the results. If they want to refine the level of care they provide, they’re going to have to work closely with data.

SE Healthcare: Ok. So, the organization has all this great, real-time data at its fingertips. Talk about what the practice manager, or whoever the responsible party is, should be looking for and how they should be using the insights to positively impact things like the patient experience, enhanced reimbursement and improved operations to drive increased profitability.

Rick Hammer: The best place to start is patient safety and engagement. Patients are the central focus of healthcare and surely the number one priority when it comes to improving quality. Data should be first used to identify safety gaps and other areas of practice in need of improvement. If a physician isn’t following the proper procedures every time they see a patient, it needs to be identified so it can be revised right away. Then, patient experience feedback data should be analyzed to find out how the organization and their physicians can enhance each patient’s experience. For example, how can they communicate better and explain the reasoning behind their decisions while making sure the patient feels understood? After this is taken care of, the data can finally be used to create a value story that demonstrates the true worth of the organization. With tangible data backing up that value story, healthcare organizations can come into reimbursement negotiations ready to maximize revenue.

SE Healthcare: Great advice you’ve provided. Certainly very useful to healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes. Before we wrap things up, though, if there was one additional piece of advice you could add, what would it be?

Rick Hammer: One additional piece of advice I would like to end with is to pay attention to the health and emotions of your physicians. They’re extremely busy, under pressure constantly and worry about making the right decision in every single situation. This can sometimes cause a state of fatigue and stress ultimately leading to burnout. Physician burnout is becoming a big concern in the healthcare industry because when they’re burnt out, there’s almost a 50% chance that they can slip up and make the wrong decision. While it’s imperative to make sure patients are healthy at all times, it’s equally important to make sure your physicians are healthy and in the right state of mind.

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About Author

Rick Hammer, MD

    Rick Hammer, M.D., is the Interim CEO of SE Healthcare. He also works with insurers on innovative patient safety initiatives in a consulting role for the Partners in Safety Program. Dr. Hammer is a board certified physician with more than 20 years of experience in healthcare delivery and the business of medicine. He has created and implemented practical solutions for health plans, employer groups, integrated medical systems and private physician groups.

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