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Rx for Success

By Samuel Greengard Print this article Print

Technology is driving profound changes in the health care arena. Savvy IT executives recognize that the stakes are greater than ever before, and the right systems can drive enormous gains.

Rx for Success

Building a better health care model isn’t only about delivering services faster and better. It’s also about using information technology to become smarter and more efficient. As a result, business intelligence is moving into the mainstream.

“BI is a transformational technology,” says Forrester’s Brown. “Tapping into clinical and demographic data through analytics, data mining and data warehousing represents a huge opportunity.”

Many health care organizations are already using business intelligence and predictive analytics to develop more efficient processes and programs. Some are turning to these tools to rate the probability of patients contracting certain diseases, including diabetes. Others are studying patient usage patterns and adapting programs, purchases and scheduling to reflect consumption and anticipated demand. Still other organizations are adapting marketing campaigns to fit the preferences and needs of different customer segments.

Martin’s Point Health Care in Portland, Maine, has placed a heavy emphasis on analytics. With more than 65,000 patients at nine practice sites, the organization built a dashboard to measure eight key metrics, including the percentage of patients that see their primary care physician versus someone else within the office; how preventive care plays out; and the relationship between patient charges and collection rates. “In the past, doctors and administrators didn’t have a good grasp of patient care and outcomes,” acknowledges Jeff Guevin, manager of business intelligence administration.

The health care provider, which uses an IBM Cognos BI system to link 13 business units across 20 databases, has become far more efficient, notes David Halbert, an internist with Martin’s Point. “We’re identifying patients that have dropped off the map,” he says, and “we’re able to be more proactive about patient care and lab work. There are fewer callbacks, and processes occur quicker and better than at any time in the past.”

The result? The organization estimates the ROI for the BI initiative at more than 1,000 percent, and the average annual gain exceeds $335,000.

But there are other benefits as well. According to PwC, 90 percent of health care executives believe that the use of secondary data—often collected and stored in EMRs—significantly improves the quality of patient care. In addition, nearly two-thirds of these executives say that they expect their use of secondary data to increase significantly during the next two years. PwC reports that the effective use of this information leads to significant quality gains and cost savings.

More Efficient Data Centers

Information technology is also changing the face of health care in less obvious but equally tangible ways, such as virtualization and cloud computing. “Virtualization provides a robust framework that supports many of the essential patient-facing systems,” says Accenture’s Wan. “It’s helping organizations manage costs and build more efficient data centers.”

That’s the case at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Four years ago, the health system, with 20 hospitals and 400 outpatient and long-term care facilities, found itself running out of data center space. It turned to server virtualization and today has 1,200-plus virtual machines running on 22 Windows servers.

The rack space required for these servers has declined from 54 to 2-1/3. Likewise, the organization has trimmed Unix servers from 167 to 14, and it will soon consolidate to four. “We are experiencing an enormous cost saving in terms of power, racks, floor space, network ports, storage and air conditioning,” says Paul Sikora, vice president of IT transformation.

The virtualization initiative has also helped the medical center construct a private cloud that manages EMRs, financial systems, time and attendance, and other functions. This virtualized environment, created with help from IBM, provides full disaster recovery capabilities.

The result? “Instead of running our EMR system at 50 percent capacity if we go into disaster recovery mode, we can operate it at 100 percent,” Sikora explains. Equally significant: The medical center has avoided approximately $80 million in capital and operating costs as a result of the project.

In the end, one thing is certain: The demands on IT in the health care industry aren’t going away. Russ Nash, global managing director for health industry initiatives at Accenture, says the current wave of health technology is all about providing greater access to information, more sophisticated ways to examine information, and identifying ways to put computing and data to greater use.

“Technology offers the potential to create more efficient health care providers and a significantly better health care system,” Nash says.

This article was originally published on 2010-04-08
Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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