Guest Column | June 6, 2019

Embrace The Power Of Data For Supply Chain Optimization

By Kishore Bala, Syft

Data Tunnel

Data is everywhere, and in healthcare, it comes from a huge number of sources – EMRs, ERP systems, manufacturers, distributors, and more. Turning this disparate data into useful information to optimize the delivery of healthcare services is the end goal, but while industries like retail and banking are effectively using Big Data to improve sales and operations, the healthcare industry lags. Understandably, we are frustrated, confused, and overwhelmed as we work to find a solution.

Leveraging Big Data: Why Healthcare Lags Behind Other Industries

There are three main reasons healthcare has not fully exploited the use of Big Data to enhance operational and clinical operations:

  1. Integrating and synthesizing data is a challenge: Most healthcare providers have now implemented EMR’s. From these electronically stored records, one would expect to develop some actionable insights. However, the data is not in just one system and EMRs need to pull data from disparate systems that do not allow for automatic, bidirectional communication.
  2. Dirty data is little help: For any insights to be meaningful and actionable we need clean data. Dirty data will yield either less than optimum results when analyzing the data or can completely give wrong insights.
  3. Systems and/or processes are not in place to capture data: Capturing the data that is accurate, clean, and in a format that is going to aid in downstream analytics is an ongoing challenge for hospitals due to (a) systems are not equipped to help clinicians to do this efficiently and effectively or (b) non-compliance exists due to institutional habits.

Without addressing these three main challenges first hospitals cannot have a successful Big Data initiative

Data Presents Significant Opportunities

Data mining in the medical field can be very challenging, but, if collected and analyzed effectively it can be used to help hospitals in various categories like evidence-based medicine to reduce hospital errors; population health data for early detection and/or prevention of diseases; diagnosis and clinical decision support; and supply chain optimization. It is very easy for organizations to lose sight of how data can help improve patient care and reduce healthcare costs. As healthcare costs breach 18 percent of the GDP, providers need tools that can help them sift through this myriad of data and provide meaningful, actionable insights that are prescriptive in spend reduction.

Analytics was the most discussed topic at the recently concluded HIMSS conference, however, a recent webinar on HIMSS trends reported that the use of analytics to lower costs and improve care is still not widespread among hospitals in the U.S. Ensuring the quality of data that is input into ERP and EMR systems and extracting right data can help hospitals to use that data to tell a story that is insightful to their physicians. This enables meaningful change.

If a traditional data mining approach that considers patterns and trends in data sets can be very useful, why isn’t this being done in more hospitals across the U.S.? The most likely answer can be found among these top industry obstacles:

  1. Low on decision makers’ priority list
  2. Competing for limited dollars
  3. Perceived interoperability challenges
  4. Buy-in required from the top-down
  5. Disconnect between Warehouse and Clinical
  6. Need to prove the SCM process is the same or easier
  7. Reluctance by support staff to implement new processes
  8. Lack of time or willingness to update physician preference cards­­

Supply Chain Data Is Ripe For Data Mining

Supply chain data can give organizations insight into many processes that, if optimized, can help an organization achieve these two key goals of lowering costs and improving care. Areas include:

  1. Insight into case cart process helps hospitals optimize their preference cards and avoid supplies round tripping, wastage, and supply safaris that are both expensive and can be problematic for infection control.
  2. Ability to compare physician variance to identify standardization opportunities and reduce physician supply cost variance
  3. Forecasting capabilities using supply chain data combined with procedural data. This allows hospitals to perform predictive analytics to ensure the products are available at the right time, at the right place, and at the right cost.

More than nine in ten (98 percent) healthcare leaders who responded to a recent market survey ranked their supply chain is either medium or high priority. At the same time, most respondents said that improving their supply chain could reduce their organizations’ costs and increase their margins by 1-3 percent. Conducted by Sage Growth Partners, a healthcare strategy, research, and consulting firm on behalf of Syft, the survey also found that hospital leaders are shifting their focus from revenue to cost optimization as the pressure mounts to migrate from fee-for-service to value-based care and programs like bundled payments.

An Integrated, End-To-End Solution Brings It All Together

Effectively capturing, integrating, and synthesizing the supply chain data from multiple sources is key to driving results. Hospitals should consider an integrated, end-to-end platform solution that can be deployed enterprisewide versus point solutions. Supply chain leaders are somewhat divided, but a single platform with an intuitive dashboard and analytics suite is seen as having the greatest likelihood of having a positive impact on business operations (38 percent). An enterprise platform that will act as conduit in connecting different disparate systems will be able to overcome the challenge of gathering the data using artificial intelligence, statistical models, and machine learning techniques. This will enable healthcare organizations to find meaningful insights and prescriptive analytics to make informed decisions for optimized inventory, standardized preference cards, and more accurate forecast demand.

If hospital leaders are going to successfully migrate to VBC, they must embrace the power of the data and shift focus to a more holistic view of supply chain optimization for cost savings and quality improvements.

About The Author 

Kishore Bala, Chief Technology Officer at Syft, is an accomplished technology professional with over 25 years of experience in the healthcare supply chain, manufacturing, and finance verticals.