Advancing Population Health with Analytics and Data

Brendan Watkins

By Brendan Watkins, chief analytics officer, Stanford Children’s Health.

 Regardless of industry, the purpose of analytics is to better utilize data to improve organizational understanding, which leads to better decision-making. In health care, this is true for both individual clinicians making judgment calls based on patient needs and for the health system as a whole.

The health care industry has had (and continues) to navigate challenges in the way that we collect and analyze data. Now, health care faces an additional challenge: simplifying the vast amounts of information at our disposal so the most important insights are immediately clear and are translated into action.

In pediatrics, this is increasingly difficult. While children are generally a very healthy segment of the population, it is important to understand the unique social and environmental conditions of these patients – and how these manifest over time as they grow and mature at different stages. It’s also important to remember that while kids are generally healthy, many pediatric and adolescent patients have complex care needs.

Here are four ways that analytics and data can help advance population health for patients and families.

  1. Matching patients with the social resources they need: Analytics and data management helps clinicians understand the social determinants of the health of their patients, such as food, housing and other economic conditions, and enables organizations to tackle these issues systemically. For example, in the case of vaccines, Stanford Children’s Health incorporated health equity analytics into its governance program, which has allowed the team to deploy and align the resources needed to provide vaccines to the most vulnerable patients in our community.
  2. Providing organizational direction: Analytics are a powerful tool to assist in strengthening the direction and priorities of an organization. Operating in a federated analytics capacity with curated data is powerful, as it provides deeper understanding to individuals who are in positions to impact the goals of the organization. The alignment of these efforts is crucial and requires the energy and resources devoted to analytics being in line with the organization and its mission. If there is no alignment, there is no focus, and organizations miss the opportunity to understand where improvements need to be made across clinical, strategic, financial and operations.
  3. Optimizing patient experience: Analytics can provide insights into the experience patients face when interacting with physicians in a clinic or hospital. It is critical to understand both the positive and negative experiences of individual patients and families to further enhance care, and of course, identify areas that require additional focus or improvement. Similarly, analytics help us understand a patient’s access to providers and the flow through the hospital system from admission through surgery, and ultimately to discharge.
  4. Identifying gaps in coverage: Analytics gives organizations an understanding of which patients have received specific types of care or particular routine preventative measures (such as vaccines). With this data, organizations can quantify where there might be gaps with their patient population and community. This gives them the information they need to better tailor outreach efforts both in geographic access and in communication. Not only does this afford the ability to pinpoint the areas patients were underserved, it allows them to quickly pivot and ramp up digital health, telemedicine or virtual health efforts to close these gaps.

Overall, analytics should provide the organization with an understanding of all functions within the system. Just like any role within an organization, analytics teams have finite resources. For teams, it is most impactful when there is a central function to collect, organize and manage data elements and make curated data resources available. Leveraging data across an organization provides the necessary insights in a timely manner.

When analytics are focused on the same direction as the organization, health care leaders can better align on priorities and energy spend. They serve as a powerful function within an organization, helping to understand of patients, the community and the internal functioning of the system as a whole.

I truly believe in the opportunity ahead of analytics, leveraged as a force for good, especially in matters of health equity. As data collection becomes more sophisticated, analytics will inherently become more complex, but it will remain exciting and rewarding for all organizations who apply it correctly.

With this, we can truly use data for the betterment of care – and for the care of our patients and families.


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