'Meaningful Use' Should Boost Use of Business Intelligence

Ann All
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Harnessing the Wisdom of Business Intelligence

Valuable insight into BI use and products currently in the market.

Remember how mightily companies complained about Sarbanes-Oxley, the legislation that changed the way they reported their financial results? Many of them are still complaining, eight years after it was enacted, but others recognize that Sarbox made their finance operations more efficient by imposing some needed process rigor.


Will "meaningful use" requirements that are part of the HITECH Act impose similar rigor on health care providers, bringing increased efficiency and improved patient care? It seems likely based on my recent interview of Tom Callahan, a health care industry veteran recently hired by Datawatch Corp., a provider of business intelligence solutions, to bolster its health care practice.


Health care providers have been so focused on clinical applications used in day-to-day care of individual patients, they haven't focused on looking for trends and patterns in aggregated patient data, Callahan told me. Meaningful use requirements should help change that, as they will require providers to take a good, hard look at their abilities to access and aggregate data. Callahan said:

In looking at meaningful use, providers are forced to understand where their reporting is. Whether they call it business intelligence or not, they are going to have to evaluate where each of the hospitals are vs. some of their clinics. It's an interesting dynamic coming out of meaningful use. The industry must evaluate their reporting mechanisms and also health information exchange capabilities, the ability to transfer data from your facility to the government or from one facility to another. We're seeing a lot of interest in the ability to transfer data in a particular standard. That interest is coming out of meaningful use. Was it intended with meaningful use? Probably not, but I think it's a positive for the industry.

BI will be "at the forefront in terms of bringing the data together, and also in terms of showing where improvements need to be made," Callahan added. He suggested providers must ask two key questions: Did we comply with meaningful use requirements and use data to demonstrate compliance? What's the measure and how do we improve on it? Those questions will create "real BI value," he said.


Callahan said providers face five key challenges in boosting their use of BI:

  • Lack of funding. Coming off a recession, health care providers are being asked to fund a variety of initiatives to comply with the HITECH Act.
  • Conflicting priorities in health care. As Callahan explained: "Meaningful use requires electronic medical records (EMRs). But it also requires you to produce quality measures. So where do you start? Money has to go to the EMRs first so you can collect the data to produce the measures."
  • Lack of BI professionals with an understanding of the health care industry. As Callahan told me: "To ask a clinician how he wants to see his key performance indicators, sometimes it's like talking to Mars. On the other side of it, you've got business folks who understand indicators, but they don't know how it happens. IT folks know how it happens, but they don't know the indicators you want. Finding people with the right skill set to blend the clinical, the business and the technical is very difficult." This shortage will lessen as BI becomes more common in health care, he said..
  • Data integration and extraction. While this is a challenge for all industries, it's an even bigger one in health care because, as Callahan said, "you've got lots of text-based reports coming out of big mainframe-type systems."
  • Data quality. Again, a common problem across industries, with organizations possessing wide ranges of data quality and data storage.


Business intelligence likely won't be the only technology increasingly adopted among health care providers. As IT Business Edge's Loraine Lawson wrote a few months ago, health care IT is no longer just a niche market largely served by smaller vendors.

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