Healthcare Data Is Bigger Than You Think

By Chris Astle, CEO, QSR International.

Chris Astle
Chris Astle

Data has been regarded as the new, shiny object in every industry for the last several years—the secret key to all your unanswered questions. The healthcare industry has been no stranger to this language, but has not had as much opportunity to put data to use as other industries. With fast-paced, “ready for anything” schedules, hospitals, EMTs and private practices have had to leave data analysis to the researchers.

A 2017 Bankrate survey found that one in four Americans do not seek medical care when they need it. The survey results cite cost as the main reason for this. While healthcare providers cannot control insurance coverage and healthcare legislature, they can control the experience patients have when they seek care. A patient is much more likely to return for an annual check-up or seek medical care when sick if they hold healthcare to be positive and important. By giving patients the chance to voice their opinion, to feel heard and capturing and analyzing this powerful data, you will create a positive atmosphere. This will then lead to things like patient retention and positive online reviews.

With technology ever advancing, data analysis is simplifying. It is becoming something that a person with no research experience can do and find benefit. Take, for example, open-ended survey analysis software. Most data software analyzes the quantitative or number-based data. This includes the numerical details that you gather like a patient’s vitals. Data is much more than that. Imagine being able to analyze not only quantitative data, but qualitative too, including things like open-ended answers. This opens the possibility to hear directly from patients, doctors, and nurses, not only to better customer service, but importantly, care.

Mixed-question surveys provide health practitioners a simple way to gain new insights. Have patients answer a few questions through your medical portal or while at your office that ask basic questions like, “Rate your experience,” and, “How likely are you to recommend our practice to others?” But do not feel restricted by these types of questions, there is much more to learn beyond whether someone has had a generally good or bad experience. Ask them why. Ask for suggestions of how to improve care. Ask patients to describe their symptoms or the side effects of their medication. Each answer becomes part of a data set that you can analyze and cross-examine to give you new ideas and findings, and contribute to providing a higher standard of care for patients.

This seems like a daunting task that should be left to the researchers because as a medical professional, you don’t have time. The truth is, as new medical devices continue to advance, so do the types of tech available for every aspect of care. Invest in a software option that reads both numbers-based data and open-ended text. Let the technology tell you key themes and ideas, cross-examined with demographic information gathered. You’ll notice patterns among people with similar experiences or ailments that you can then turn into actionable insights.

Organizations like Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Institute of Health (NIH) are realizing firsthand the ways that patient data analysis transforms their care. They not only keep a temperature check on the patient experience, but can link those experiences to treatments and ailments, which allows them to prepare for future patient needs.

Data in healthcare should not just be left to the researchers. Every hospital and practice stands to benefit from both the numerical and open-ended information available to them. The right tools make the implications of the data game bigger than ever. Ask all of your heart attack survivors to describe their experience then analyze the data for common themes and potential unrealized symptoms. Ask patient caregivers what they already know about caring for their loved one then analyze to determine if your practice should teach caregiving classes. The possibilities are endless. The data is in your hands.

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