Guest Column | May 18, 2020

How To Derive Value From The Data In Your EHR

By Kathy Sucich, Dimensional Insight

Advanced Healthcare Data Analytics

An electronic health record (EHR) is probably the most expensive technology investment that a hospital or health system makes, costing millions of dollars, with some deals even reaching into the billions. After investing so much money into an EHR, many healthcare organizations are loath to purchase additional technology. As a result, they are using the analytics component of their EHRs to attempt to perform organization-wide analytics. But are they succeeding at this?

A new survey fielded by Definitive Healthcare and sponsored by Dimensional Insight indicates that hospitals and health systems are seeing sub-par results from this strategy, with healthcare leaders rating their satisfaction of their EHR analytics component a 5.58 (on a scale of 0-10 with 0 being “extremely dissatisfied” and 10 being “extremely satisfied”). That’s the equivalent of a “meh” in modern-day lingo.

Why are hospitals and health systems seeing mediocre results from their EHR analytics component? And what should they do to chart a path forward to gain the right organization-wide insights they need to move the needle on improved patient outcomes? Let’s examine the survey results in some more detail and explore these questions.

EHR Analytics Use Is Widespread, But Users Not Satisfied

For the survey, Definitive Healthcare interviewed 108 healthcare leaders on their experience with EHR analytics. It also asked about their experience with analytics-specific platforms and in-house solutions to serve as a comparison point.

The survey found that 90 percent of hospitals and health systems use the analytics component of their electronic health records (EHRs), with 49 percent using it exclusively or primarily for analytics.

As previously mentioned, leaders ranked their satisfaction with EHR analytics as a 5.58 on a scale of 0-10. In-house solutions, on the other hand, received a satisfaction score of 6.51 (17 percent higher) and analytics-specific platforms received a score of 6.69 (20 percent higher), indicating their users can see more value from those solutions.

Why are EHR analytics users reporting lower scores? The survey shows they are primarily challenged by technology aspects of the component, whereas users of in-house or analytics-specific platforms are less challenged by technology and more challenged by cost and leadership decisions.

For organizations that are using EHR analytics as their primary analytics tool, top challenges are:

  • The reporting and querying is difficult/slow (43.4 percent)
  • The component is not robust or advanced enough (35.8 percent)
  • Interoperability (30.2 percent)
  • Lack of visualization (28.3 percent)
  • User interface is difficult to understand/use (26.4 percent)

Those that are not using EHR analytics cite similar technology challenges as the reason they are not using the component.

While some of the same challenges are present for users of analytics-specific platforms or in-house solutions, cost is notably more of a challenge for them (+22 percent from EHR analytics users), while the robustness or advancement of the technology is notably less of a challenge (-20 percent from EHR analytics users).

The Benefits Of An Analytics-Specific Platform

The survey revealed that organizations that use an analytics-specific platform in any manner have the highest level of analytical advancement, scoring a 6.89 (on a scale of 0-10 where 0 represents “minimal use” and 10 represents “advanced use”). Users of in-house solutions scored a 6.70 and EHR analytics users scored a 6.77.

In addition, those that don’t currently use an analytics-specific platform to conduct and perform analytics within their EHR see the value of implementing one. On a scale of 0-10 where 0 represents “no value at all” and 10 represents “extremely valuable,” non-users ranked analytics-specific platforms at a 7.40, indicating they would find the technology very valuable.

Finding A Path Forward

There are a couple of reasons as to why EHR analytics components don’t fully meet the needs of hospitals and health systems. The first is that these components were not designed by experts in analysis. Because an EHR company’s development efforts will be primarily focused on improving the EHR itself, the analytics component will not provide the robustness that most hospitals require to gain the right insights that, in turn, improve outcomes. That’s why users of analytics-specific platforms or even in-house solutions report greater satisfaction levels. They are using technology that was designed by experts who know how to extract value from data.

Secondly, EHR analytics components can typically only perform analytics on the data coming out of the EHR itself. In reality, while the EHR certainly contains valuable data, hospitals, and health systems have a wealth of data in other source systems, that when combined with EHR data can provide a truly global look across the organization.

So what is the path forward for hospitals and health systems to gain value from the data not only in their EHRs but also in their other systems? As the survey shows, an analytics-specific platform can provide the right answer. While healthcare leaders identified their top reasons for not choosing such a platform, the reality is that in many cases, these objections are based on perception, not fact.

Let’s examine the top reasons that healthcare organizations are not using an analytics-specific platform:

  • Cost (62.8 percent)
  • Interoperability concerns with current EHR, systems (46.5 percent)
  • Leadership decision (32.6 percent)

With regard to cost, many organizations feel as though they have already made a (very large) investment in their EHR, so they should utilize the analytics component of it rather than make an additional investment in an outside technology. However, users are reporting it provides them with the highest levels of satisfaction and value. The return that hospitals and health systems are seeing from their analytics-specific platform more than covers the cost of the technology.

Many organizations are also concerned about interoperability with other systems. While this is a valid concern, there are analytics solutions out there that are very adept at working with other technologies and skillfully integrating data. The key is to do your due diligence. It can help to look for platforms that were built from start to finish by the same company. Those technologies that themselves are built on parts from different vendors are often constrained by the limitations of each separate piece they are built on. When evaluating solutions, it helps to ask vendors what source systems they can extract data from, and how data is combined and presented for analysis. Robust solutions will be able to integrate and standardize data from a wide variety of source systems.

Now on to leadership decision. This is arguably the hardest obstacle to overcome. In many cases, leadership decides that the investment is made in the EHR, and the organization must use its capabilities, not fully understanding some of the functionality limitations. This is where it pays to do your research, be informed on solutions and functionality, and compellingly communicate those benefits to leadership. As the survey shows, healthcare organizations that don’t currently use an analytics-specific platform strongly see the benefits of using one. Now is the time to communicate that value to leadership. When hospitals and health systems get help from the right analytics vendor – one that can help them overcome cost and interoperability concerns – that value can pay itself back many times over in the form of reduced operational costs, improved insights, and better patient outcomes.

About The Author

Kathy Sucich is a healthcare industry expert at Dimensional Insight, the 2020 Best in KLAS winner in healthcare business intelligence and analytics. Please follow Dimensional Insight on Twitter @DI_tweet or LinkedIn.