Data analytics in ASCs: The future is here

Data analytics capabilities are applied all across healthcare now. Even hospitals and physician practices in the most remote locations are gathering data with electronic medical records or practice software systems and reaping the clinical and operational benefits of big data.

It's time for ambulatory surgery centers to jump onboard. The level of data collection experience varies widely from center to center — some with management company affiliation have been collecting and benchmarking against sophisticated data for years while others barely keep Excel spreadsheets updated from month to month. But, in the data-driven healthcare environment, there are clear advantages for ASCs proving they are the highest quality, lowest cost provider in the market.

"ASCs can mine and benchmark various types of data and then use that data to track and understand cost, revenue, quality and other key indicators on a case-by-case basis," says Sikander Hassan, vice president of business intelligence for Nueterra. "From there, they can use the data sets to determine how well their center is doing — what do the case costing figures look like, which physicians and/or procedures are the most cost-effective and then which physicians/procedures are the least effective."

Medicare-certified ASCs are now required to report quality data, which will likely become public information published online much like hospital and individual physician data are already online today. These reports are also helpful for non-government payers, healthcare agencies, shareholders and contractors to see how the center meets current healthcare standards and pass annual accreditation surveys or license renewals.

"Overall, ASCs can use the data reports to make better decisions and improve business by reducing costs, increasing revenue and improving customer satisfaction," says Mr. Hassan. "Complete and accurate data input is the foundation of accurate data analytics. In order to help ASCs generate accurate data analytics, all shareholders have to be cooperative."

Some of the most valuable business operational to collect include:

•    Cost per case
•    Cost per case per physician
•    Case volume
•    Case mix
•    Payer mix
•    Reimbursement per case per payer
•    Room turnover times
•    Time spent in waiting room/preop/surgery/PACU
•    Staffing hours: administrative, clinical and total

"One of the most important things about data analytics is that your data is only going to be as good as what is captured in the system," says Kalin Mieras, director of financial planning and analysis at Nueterra. "If data is not captured correctly, or not captured at all, the data output will be meaningless."

There are numerous major software vendors that deal in business intelligence and analytics tools, including companies like IBM, who Nueterra partnered with to create its own cloud-based business intelligence platform called Nueterra Insight. The company aggregates data from its entire network of facilities for benchmarking. The large data set allows owners and operators to see trends and determine opportunities and shortcomings.

"The size of an ASC directly impacts that facility's data collection process," says Mr. Hassan. "The larger the ASC, the more data they'll need to extract, so it will take more time to scrub and process the data for user reporting and dashboard use."

Beyond internal improvement, ASCs can use data collection to increase profitability. "Facilities should be examining their data to make sure payers are paying according to their existing contracts," says Mr. Mieras. "Also, facilities should monitor their own out-of-network payments and look for trends that could be financially detrimental to the center."

Materials management could benefit from additional data collection as well:

•    Supply cost per case
•    Supply costs per physician
•    Just-in-time supply and shipping costs
•    Freight costs
•    Unused medical supply disposal

"A facility can use [supply cost] data not only to see if they are making money on a specific case, but they can use data to compare supply costs by physicians on similar cases," says Mr. Mieras. "Examining the data the facility collects can also help identify which supplies are highly utilized. This will add some focus in knowing which supplies warrant a hunt for better pricing."

Despite how valuable data collection is, many ASCs experience roadblocks. There are costs and resource utilization associated with data collection and analytics reports. Centers must upgrade hardware and software, hire IT personnel and host coaching and training for system implementation.

"I don't believe it will get easier in the future, thanks in part to the fact that the government is requiring all healthcare facilities to implement ICD-10, which requires facilities to have a newer model of data servers, along with its hardware and software prior to ICD-10's implementation. In the meantime, just the logistics and cost of getting a data analytics system in place are the greatest obstacles."

But trends in healthcare are leaving ASCs few options to avoid the big-data boom. Patients with high deductibles are shopping around for their care and self-funded employers want to ensure their employees are getting the best deal possible. Data analytics can help ASC owners and operators understand their business and make better decisions for their patients and themselves — and prove to patients they're the real deal.

"Based on the current data analytics trend, we can tell that more and more ASCs will be using and benefiting from various data analytics tools in the near future, and this will be very important because the results yielded from data mining and analysis — the resulting business intelligence — will have a lot to do with how healthcare consumers shop all of healthcare," says Mr. Hassan. "With the shift in insurance and healthcare overall, consumers are going to be paying for more of their treatment and shopping for the best values and quality. Data analytics and business intelligence will factor into how they do that."

More articles on surgery centers:
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