Finding Answers to the Healthcare Cost/Quality Paradox

We interview Brent Dover, President of Health Catalyst.

Health Catalyst

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The challenge many emerging and developed countries are facing is perhaps one of the great paradoxes of our time: how can we reduce the cost of healthcare while at the same time improving quality?

Today’s healthcare systems are beginning to recognize where the answer to this issue lies: data.

But the healthcare data landscape is complex and continues to evolve, making the task of understanding it more challenging by the day.

This is where data analytics platforms like those provided by Qlik and Health Catalyst can simplify the complexity and provide valuable insights to healthcare professionals. My colleague, Nick Murdock, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Brent Dover, President of Health Catalyst. Here are some of the insights he shared with Nick on the state of healthcare analytics.

Nick: Brent, can you tell me how Health Catalyst started?

Brent: Health Catalyst was formed by a group of healthcare veterans with vast data warehousing and quality improvement experience. Our founders and executives collaborated for nearly a decade with Dr. David A. Burton, who is known for revolutionizing clinical process models using analytics. Their goal was to develop a data warehouse that could handle the complexities unique to healthcare data.

The healthcare profession as a whole has spent the last 20 years computerizing medical records. Today we’re in the beginning stages of understanding all that digitized information.

N: Why is it so important to understand the data in a healthcare profession?

B: The power of analytics is simple but profound: understanding which therapies work best. Reducing variation. Increasing efficiency and quality, lowering costs and finally: producing predictable outcomes. All this requires data analysis and that’s where the Health Catalyst applications and the Qlik platform truly shine.

N: Health Catalyst obviously has years of experience in healthcare and deep clinical knowledge. When a new customer comes to you requesting an application, how much of it is ready to go and how much of it is customized?

B: When a hospital comes to us to develop an app, about 85 percent of it is ready to go, off the shelf. But at least 15 percent is customized to the client’s unique situation, which we call “fingerprinting” an application.

N: You mentioned clinical variation. Why is it so important for doctors to agree on best practices? Can you give an example?

B: The cardiology department in a major hospital may have 10 to 20 specialists, all of whom were trained in a different way. But the data shows the physicians which of their approaches works best and helps them understand the need to conform to a proven standard. All of this is only possible if they can understand and trust the data, as well as the story it tells.

N: Can you talk about the big movement around population health and proactive patient outreach?

B: The average physician cares for between 2,000 and 3,000 patients—meaning there’s no way to proactively monitor that many patients. Thanks in part to the Qlik platform, we’ve built applications that scan important data and prompt the office staff to reach out to patients for follow up so the doctor isn’t caring only for those patients who happen to walk through the door.

N: What’s the experience like when doctors and nurses understand the power of analytics for the first time?

B: Nothing is more fun and rewarding than to witness that “Aha moment” when a doctor or a nurse gains insight from the data and discovers a better way to provide care. They suddenly realize that all the hassle of computerizing medical records is finally paying off. And this is just the beginning.

N: Do you have any quick anecdotes from actual customers that you could share?

B: One of our clients, a children’s hospital, noticed an uptick in length of stay and admission to the ICU for appendicitis patients. We looked at the data and it turned out that the preferred drug was being administered only 28 percent of the time. The problem was corrected and there was a 90 percent improvement in results. That’s the power of data.

N: How would you describe the impact of analytics on healthcare in the United States?

B: In the United States we spend one seventh of our GDP on healthcare. The potential impact of analytics on increasing efficiency, reducing costs, and improving the quality of care is simply awesome. And like I said earlier—this is just the beginning.

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