This article has been updated to clarify analytics has helped unlock data found in EMRs.
Some industries are slower than others when it comes to digital transformation. Media and entertainment have been quick to adopt digital technologies to help maintain audiences, while consumer packaged goods companies have barely made initial steps toward digital overhaul, according to McKinsey data.
Healthcare systems and services, however, are somewhere in the middle. That partly stems from disparate systems being used across an organization. And in other cases, it is caused by a lack of talent or not knowing where to begin.
Mercy, the fifth largest Catholic healthcare system in the U.S., brought in an outsider to run its IT department as part of a plan to overhaul systems for a more modern era of technology.
Gil Hoffman, SVP and CIO at Mercy, leads an organization within the hospital network called "Mercy Technology Services," which operates as a shared services organization across 44 hospitals and more than 300 clinics in four states.
The unit provides all technology functions for Mercy, from network, infrastructure and desktop support to clinical applications involved with Epic technologies. Mercy also commercialized its technical services, offering them to other providers, particularly around its Epic expertise.
"Not only did [commercialization] improve our own internal services and make us much more aware of what service level commitments mean, what service desk response times should be, all those types of things," Hoffman said. "It contributed a significant amount of revenue to the organization at a much higher margin than healthcare will ever see. So we help recover a lot of our own costs while contributing to the bottom line."
Part of the onus for operating Mercy technology comes from Hoffman having no prior experience in the healthcare industry.
For 39 years, Hoffman worked for Martiz Holdings, a sales and marketing services company, which gave him a lot of experience in the financial, hospitality, automotive and technology sectors.
The outside perspective let Hoffman approach some of the complex problems in a more tech-centric way. In particular, Hoffman and business stakeholders helped take a hold of the unstructured data found in medical records to derive insight and refine patient care.
One of the primary transitions for the organization was to rethink the hospitals' key customer. "I mean, we were on the bottom floor on patient experience as an industry just because we haven't looked at the people we serve as true customers," said Hoffman, who has now been with Mercy for six years.
Bringing technology that's commonplace in other industries — such as self service portals and the ability for patients to schedule appointments — Mercy was able to improve communication and create an overall better patient experience.
Adding structure to unstructured data
To revamp its technology portfolio, Hoffman had to work with business stakeholders to prioritize projects that would have long-term value. Drawing on representation from clinical, financial, technical and executive management representation from the hospital network, Mercy established a new governance model to focus and measure projects based on what they would deliver.
Key technology initiatives were then tackled based on the potential to deliver, whether that was:
Improving patient safety and experience
Leading to a better patient outcome
Boosting productivity for physicians and nurses
After discovering a surprising "lack of security," Hoffman helped lead one of Mercy's largest projects to revamp its entire network, boost all security aspects, establish a security organization and place representation on the board to report out on security.
The network upgrade was a $41 million project, Hoffman said. But it also established the foundation for technology upgrades that went far beyond security.
Working with Curtis Dudley, VP of performance solutions at Mercy, Hoffman established an analytics team to alter the organization's approach to healthcare, changing workflows and allowing doctors to work in more data driven ways.
Before the analytics team, the vast amount of data stored on an electronic medical record (EMR) was largely untapped, according to Dudley. Mercy heavily invested in a data platform and in-memory capabilities to help process those huge sets of EMRs with their large amounts of historic data.
In 2007, Mercy was one of the early adopters of EMRs, according to Dudley. "We've spent the last 10 years taking all that notes data and putting it into a discreet field so we can use the data to actually measure things."
"... really taking all that data, locking the EMR, making investments in the data warehouse and new technologies [allows] us to be able to deliver and digest in a way that clinicians can consume."
VP of performance solutions at Mercy
Consuming raw data takes time, and the advancements Mercy has shown from analyzing EMR data stems from program maturity. But key to its success was standardizing the EMR deployment across organizations and locations as well as using the same Epic instances in both hospital care and ambulatory. That allows for a full spectrum of data, from inpatient to outpatient to continuing care.
Operating in three categories, clinical, operational and financial, the analytics helped standardize practice and lower cost per case on procedures.
For example, the hospital took a look at what was the best method of care for cardiac heart failure patients. Looking at consistency across data sets, the hospital could determine what procedures provided the best results and would lead to the best outcome for patients.
Analytics has been a major focus, Dudley said, and "really taking all that data, unlocking the EMR, making investments in the data warehouse and new technologies [allows] us to be able to deliver and digest in a way that clinicians can consume."