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The ins and outs of data analytics

Jeremy Weiss, MD, PhD, assistant professor of health informatics at Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University's Heinz College, discusses the potential for data analytics and what future goals should look like in the digital healthcare era.

Question: How are practices using data analytics?

Dr. Jeremy Weiss: Analytics are pervasive: administrators track costs and revenue, surgeons track post-surgical outcomes, intensivists depend on continuous monitoring and alerting systems, lab medicine directors continually calibrate instruments based on analytics, etc. Each does research and process improvement, all using analytics.

Q: How can data analytics address various business issues such as readmission rates, optimizing length of stay or staffing issues?

JW: The first step to investigate a business issue quantitatively is measurement. Analytics based on these measurements provide insight into possible process improvements. For readmission, this includes: risk stratification of future individuals, detection of anomalous rates, risk attribution to causes of excess readmission and so on.

Q: What is the value of using predictive analytics in today's healthcare landscape?

JW:  JAMA published an article on how hemoglobin A1C is a primary marker for diabetics, yet for fixed A1C levels, the medication you take influences the downstream outcomes like heart attack and death. Analytics let you question the value of your surrogate markers. Analytics let you make informed decisions as medical practice and risk factors in your population shift.

Q: What would you like to see in predictive analytics in the next five years?

JW: I would like to see hospitals comparing their analytics to the analytics reported broadly in the literature and public domain and making decisions informed by both. I would like better systems that let users (e.g. physicians, nurses) be good at what they do while passively collecting and maintaining equivalent surrogate information. Transforming growing pains into applicable evidence-based medicine is a worthy goal for the near future.

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