Illuminated Path: Shining a Light on Healthcare's Best Operational Practices

Illuminated Path: Episode 7, Collecting and Using Meaningful Data to Help Your Organization Thrive

October 05, 2018 Intalere: Healthcare Supply Chain Management Season 2 Episode 2
Illuminated Path: Shining a Light on Healthcare's Best Operational Practices
Illuminated Path: Episode 7, Collecting and Using Meaningful Data to Help Your Organization Thrive
Show Notes Transcript

In this episode of Illuminated Path, host Evan Danis welcomes guest Richard Mackey, senior vice president of Information Technology at Intalere. Mackey shares his thoughts on the pervasiveness of analytics in life and business decision making – and most importantly how healthcare needs to embrace it. Discover how Intalere is making it easier for healthcare providers to access data on spend analytics to drive procurement insights, service line analytics to pinpoint opportunities for profitability and strategic planning analytics to drive organizational growth. 

Speaker 1:

You are listening to Illuminated Path, shining a light on healthcare's best operational practices brought to you by Intalere. I'm your host Evan Danis, senior director of corporate communications at Intalere. Joining us in the studio today is Richard Mackey, vice president of information technology at Intalere. In his current position, Richard is responsible for leading Intalere's product development function with a focus on establishing a differentiated analytics and software solutions capability. Richard has extensive leadership experience in building new digital and analytics capabilities and technology and finance functions just prior to joining Intalere, he served as senior manager for it practice for Accenture, a leading management consulting and outsourcing firm where he led IT sourcing project activities to identify and contract with IT software, infrastructure services, and telecommunications providers. He has also led technology transformation initiatives at national and global companies with many in the healthcare space. Mackey has earned numerous leadership and partner engagement awards throughout his career and currently shares his expertise and knowledge as an adjunct faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh teaching business IT courses. We sat down with Richard and talk specifically about the pervasiveness of analytics in life and business decision making and how healthcare needs to embrace it. Richard, welcome. We've spoken about how analytics isn't about math or statistics. It's about data, delivering insights, insights which bring value to the system and the patient. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Speaker 2:

Thanks, Evan. It's great to be here. So when you look at analytics, I think sometimes there are people in our industry or in other industries, they get intimidated by the idea of it being advanced math or advanced statistics, and really it's more about the fact that our world has become digital and so just about everything that you do or look at or work with can be analyzed, and insights can be derived from that data. So to me, whether you're talking about a farmer or athletes in sports or even law enforcement, just about every facet of our life has now come to rely on analytics to make better informed decisions for better outcomes in each of those fields. If farmers can do it, if law enforcement can do it, we have to ask ourselves on healthcare, why aren't each and every one of us using analytics to better manage our businesses?

Speaker 1:

Right, exactly. I mean that's one of the things that you bring up all the time is the idea of farmers using drones and crop sensors and not relying on the old Farmer's Almanac and intuition anymore. Even in all baseball, we talk about money ball, things like that in law enforcement. Why do you think it's been so difficult in healthcare to get folks to, uh, to adapt to our sort of data rich environment now?

Speaker 2:

I think it's a couple of things. One is in healthcare we're notoriously slow to change because we want to minimize any risk in our environment. Any kind of change in the environment potentially incur some risk. But I think we've grown to a point where, and then maybe if I back up to maybe the second piece of that first part is there's a general aversion to some risk due to change, but the second part of that is people see that it's expensive or that it's a significant effort and will take a long time and a huge sum of money. I think what we've done now in our world and the capabilities like what we've done here at Intalere, we're able to introduce these programs at a cost and a level of effort that is very reasonable, very doable for most healthcare concerns in the country.

Speaker 1:

So it's not just the larger healthcare providers nowadays, it seems like we serve a lot of surgery centers, clinics, doctors' offices. So the idea is that data and data solutions that were not necessarily accessible to them previously now are in your estimation.

Speaker 2:

That's right. So if you go back 10 plus years, it used to be that each of these solutions really required a lot of one off individualized, personalized, customized solutioning and effort. And so you were almost kind of building the wheel each and every time specific for the provider or the IDN that you were working with. In today's world, a lot of these have become platform, so whether it's the database or the visualization layer or the interfaces and the integrations that we use to pull data from the source systems. They're all platforms that we can leverage so that the individual effort and the cost to be able to make these available is very, very much in reach.

Speaker 1:

So. Let's talk a little bit about some specific areas that data can provide some easily accessible answers for healthcare. One area is that we talk about all the time is spend analytics, so facilities, whether it's hospital, again, surgery center, any type of facility can take a deeper dive as we talk about into their spend and understand a little bit about trends, upticks, things like that. Talk a little bit about how data can help in terms of understanding spend and making some better decisions around facility spend.

Speaker 2:

Sure. So when we talk about analytics at Intalere, we have come up with a portfolio of products called OptiAnalytics and we're proud of the products that we've chosen to represent this initial wave of capabilities because each of them helps a provider or a client manage either the top line or the bottom line or the combination of the two with the margin. And in the case of spend, this is a platform that really helps a provider or client get at all of their spend activity. Whether it's across multiple facilities, across the country, across any category. It allows you to pull information from different systems, different kinds of spend related data could be purchase orders or invoices, and it allows you to give you a complete look across your organization so that you can look at anything from pricing to volume to categories and the activities that are going on across your team.

Speaker 1:

It's based on a facility's own spend and own information for the most part, so they don't necessarily need to go out to other sources to get it. In terms of spend a lot of that and understanding their spend and becoming better around standardizing and pricing can be done just through their own spend, but understanding it better through data tools we can provide or someone can provide them.

Speaker 2:

That's right. We make it very simple for organizations that are interested in this product and depending on any kind of system that you're using, we can come in and work with you to identify the different sources of, of systems that have the information or we can even work off of things like spreadsheets and other very basic kind of tools to be able to gather the kinds of information that will be shared back with the organization. And once we get that in for the source information, the base data, we normalize and standardize it and in many cases then add additional value to the data by being able to enrich it with data from our other Intalere systems or from other third parties as well.

Speaker 1:

So let's maybe come up with an example, maybe off contract spend. How can a product, just in general, a general software product, doesn't necessarily have to be anything we can provide, but how? How can a product help folks look at their off contract spend and bring that under control a little bit better? I know that's a problem we hear from a lot of our members.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. I think really what you're seeing is that people will make very good informed decisions at a point in time, and they'll sign up for a certain contract either at a base tier or at an advanced tier based on certain assumptions of level of spend or number of suppliers that they're sourcing from a specific category and then I think over time, at least in my own experience within supply chain and procurement, what we've often found is that things change over time and so you fast forward six months and because of lack of governance or the way that policies or contracts are rolled out in certain organizations, you'll find that you might have more suppliers in the mix than what you would have expected or your level of spend isn't what you initially forecasted. You didn't reach that, and so this is a tool that helps you to manage something like that across all of the categories of spend in your organization and allows you to see visually very quickly things that you wouldn't otherwise expect and then you can zero in or hone in on those pieces and it allows you to, because we're building integrations with different source systems or locations of the data, you can refresh this on a daily, weekly, monthly basis. And so you can kind of watch that over time as opposed to just looking at it once or twice a year.

Speaker 1:

Another area that I wanted to talk about a little bit and this is important to a lot of facilities, is about service line analytics. A lot of facilities, including surgery centers. I'd say I have a few different service lines, um, and it's important to them to sort of understand profitability, maybe forecast for the future; what are some of things that software nowadays can do in terms of service line analytics to assist them and maybe pinpointing opportunities or strengthening profitability in terms of service lines?

Speaker 2:

So we look at our products as being very valuable because they bring data from your environment, from multiple sources together. And a good example is with our service line analytics tool that we refer to as insight. The power of Insight is that it lets you bring clinical data from your EHR system or medical record system together with financial data from your finance systems and it lets you bring together both direct and indirect costs. And so if you're a materials manager, you might have a very good line of sight to what products are being used in a certain procedure. And so you understand that very well, but you may not always understand the indirect costs. And so when we say indirect cost, that could be things like the salaries for the clinical staff required to be able to run the procedures. It could be the cost of the facilities, whether it's rent or lease agreements or other forms of taxes and things like that. So these indirect costs are then brought together with the direct costs and based on different algorithms that have been built into the system, you can derive how profitable both the revenues are as well as you can bring together the profitability by looking at both the revenues and the direct and indirect costs for certain procedures. So what we often find with clients is that they'll, they'll have a specific service line area that is experiencing growth year over year. And so there's an assumption that it's a very profitable line of activity for the organization. What often we find is that there can be surprises that because something's grown quite a bit double digit growth year over year for several years, we find that when we apply these metrics and look at it under this framework that many of these lines of business or service lines are actually not profitable. And so then it presents the organization with a way to drill down into that and understand where are these costs coming from and how can they better manage the cost? Or how can they better handle the revenue side of the equation to have profitability rather than taking a loss on each procedure?

Speaker 1:

So are you finding though that many facilities now or maybe a software products out there, the facilities used don't necessarily take into account as much the indirect costs and that's why sometimes their metrics are skewed?

Speaker 2:

I think so. I think for some firms doing a very detailed activity based costing approach is time consuming and maybe sometimes more difficult than they can that they care to invest in. So this approach really lets you to do it in a sensible way and to using these algorithms and frameworks that have been in place with many other clients over the years. These have been developed so it's not a brand new approach or practice. This is something that's been proven and tested in the market. And once this discipline is instilled in the organization and validated by members of finance and planning and marketing and other C-level executives within our healthcare communities, it allows you to build a discipline and an approach to how you want to manage your business. And I think, you know, it's, it's a very sensible way of getting at good insights to make good decisions, but the power comes when you bring all of these different sources of data together and that's what's not always easy to do with other systems and other tools.

Speaker 1:

The third area I wanted to talk about a little bit was around strategic planning. A lot of facilities now as they're acquiring other businesses and practices, strategic plan and becomes a little bit more important and a little bit more difficult. What are some ways that data can help facilities in terms of strategic planning? What are some data sources they can use? And then some ways to use that data in terms of planning some through competitive information, or how to take the next step or grow for the future.

Speaker 2:

One of the things that's great about the healthcare industry is that we have some form of regulation in the work that we do and we like to look at that as opportunity. And, uh, one of the great examples of that, whether it's a Medicare data, CMS data in this case with our product, we call a Navigate, we're able to look at state healthcare exchange data. And what's nice about that is that you can get a complete picture of the entire state market and you're looking not just at your own activity, but you're able to view competitors and you're able to compare inflow and outflow, for example, from patients for procedures in your primary service area. So you can get a good sense of the actual count of procedures and how those have trended over time. You can look at things like specific physicians involved. There is some variation from state to state, but in general, each of the markets where we have the data, we have very thorough, complete information across the entire geography. And things like payer mix or other kinds of trends over time are able to be quickly graphed in a visual way and trends can be developed and you can better understand your market and what the opportunities are for you relative to your competitors.

Speaker 1:

And that's kind of interesting. I don't know if a lot of people really realize that, but there's not a lot of other industries where that sort of competitive information is available. Is that right?

Speaker 2:

Right. So in other industries folks may rely on data, data aggregators or other forms of private market services to be able to provide some of this at a much higher cost when and if you can do that. And oftentimes those are derived or estimates or forecasts very rarely, like the example that we're talking about here are the data, actual data, provided to the, in this case, the state agency and then available for healthcare providers analysis and for them to better understand their own capabilities. And then maybe even more importantly what's going on in the external market too.

Speaker 1:

I think that's important for folks to know and to understand. So I think that's a great point to make. One thing I wanted to talk about in terms of any of these sorts of analytics products or data aggregators or some of the software that we're talking about, and we talked about accessibility for smaller facilities nowadays as opposed to just larger ones. What about in a very general cost structure? You know, because I think any facility wanting to upgrade what they can do in terms of data or software, anything in terms of resources is always worried about cost. Right? That's always an issue. In terms of cost and ROI on products such as these, is that accessible as well for some smaller organizations?

Speaker 2:

Definitely. I think, again, we're very proud of our investment to be able to leverage common industry practices and our own insights, you know, with our experience and activity, we've, we've been offering tools and solutions in the market for many years and so we have investments that we've made that we're able to spread across our client base. And the net result of that is a much lower level of investment for folks that are looking to get into working with any of these platforms and products. But we find that you smaller surgery centers, clinics, in some cases, what we've really looked to to do here is to make analytics available to the masses, you know, to democratize the, uh, the analytics platform. And so it's never out of reach, even for small organizations of sizes anywhere, you know, five to 10 staff members and, and budgets that otherwise would find these products to be out of reach. I think what we've done is make something that can be used and leveraged by the vast majority of our clients and membership that are listening to this, to this broadcast here.

Speaker 1:

Right. And I think that's also important for them to know as well as, as pay for performance just becomes more and more of the norm. Even if facilities, smaller facilities have not had to deal with it as much, they will at some point.

Speaker 2:

Yeah. And not only have we lowered the bar by spreading out our own investment across multiple platforms, but we've also made it so that people can subscribe to these services, you know, and so as a result, the per month investment piece here is relatively nominal.

Speaker 1:

If you haven't already, you will understand and it is available. It's accessible and it's also cost effective.

Speaker 2:

We're hoping that if you're one of the folks that have sat on the sidelines and thought that this was too sophisticated or too advanced or too costly for you to think about it, give us a shot. Reach out to us because I think each and everybody listening to this would be surprised at just how little it takes in terms of both investment dollars, but also maybe more importantly your own time and your organization's time to get started. It's really not much to get going, and we know from the experience that we've seen with our adopters of these products that the payoff and the ROI to your point earlier, happens within months, not years.

Speaker 1:

I know you're very excited about this in terms of some of the things that we're doing at Intalere is around robotic process automation; can you just tell me a little bit about that? Well, maybe what we're working on as a company and then it's how, how it's applicable in the healthcare space as well.

Speaker 2:

So we look at it like a good, a good complete solution is never just analytics but it's often analytics and some measure of automation and analytics is good because it can tell you where opportunities are in your business to become less costs, to consume less resources or to run things more efficiently, but the automation piece becomes part of the tool kit to help you shave off that cost or to increase that level of efficiency. And what we mean when we say robotic process automation is really, this is not like machine robots like you think of in a car, you know, automobile manufacturing plant. These are, this is software that sits on top of each workstation and it runs and does the same tasks that a human being would do. So anytime you have a process where you're paying people to do things where they might be taking information from one application and putting it into another, you can think of getting an email and going into Outlook or some other email package copying and pasting information, putting it into Excel or some other kind of an application that is being used in a healthcare setting. It could be an EMR or care patient management system. It could be a financial system, journal entries. Any of these examples are cases where in the past, both large and small healthcare facilities have paid people, clerical people often, to do these tasks. So now what we're offering and proposing is that instead of having to hire more people to become more efficient, you can deploy these bots and this form of robotic process automation like we've talked about before with analytics, we see that we're able to offer this at a scale and a level of investment that is really not overly burdensome. You don't have to be a large IDN to be able to afford to deploy RPA in your environment.

Speaker 1:

So it's mainly we can see it in healthcare settings taking the onus off a lot of the back office things that have to be done.

Speaker 2:

I'll give you an example. We've recently deployed that at Intalere. We're using it ourselves to improve the efficiency of our own operations and we're using it in a context where we have to go to third party sites to be able to gather information. We do that in a routine volume driven way day in and day out. And so we're now able to use these bots to perform the same tasks that our people used to do. It doesn't mean that we necessarily reduce our people, but oftentimes we're able to deploy them onto higher value added tasks. So we're becoming more productive. And I think know there are many examples in a healthcare setting, whether it's around revenue cycle, claims, benefits, adjudication, verification; these are many examples that we see people exploring the potential of robotic automation. And we also see it in the back office, often many of the financial transactions, some of the shared services activities that are done in facilities, all of that work, anything that has a high volume, there's a defined business rules around how information is processed. We can code the robots to understand that and perform the same tasks that the human equivalent would do.

Speaker 1:

Right. And I think that's a great point to make for folks who may again be scared or not understanding or thinking maybe they can't afford it or it's not accessible to them as the fact that having these sorts of resources can allow them to be more productive, more efficient and have their folks doing things that are more maybe patient focused or care focused and make sure those quality measures and those outcomes are much more accessible where you're able to do that a little bit better. And we can focus on the patient care instead of having to do the paperwork or anything back office.

Speaker 2:

That's right. We're proud and excited that we're coming to market with tools and solutions on the analytics side of that can help you identify the opportunities to do more, to do better and then offer you tools like RPA to actually implement that and realize those savings that have been identified through the analytics programs.

Speaker 1:

So as we kind of bring this full circle and bring it to a close, I think, again, as healthcare organizations or folks in general hear things like data mining, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and I think that kind of scares them off a little bit. Not when they're on Amazon ordering something. All those things are in the background, right? But they don't think of it in those terms. They're just like, I'm gonna order this and get it in two days. But I think when they look at it in a healthcare setting, a lot of times it scares them off. And we're kind of saying, I think we were talking about a little bit that you don't necessarily have to be.

Speaker 2:

That's right. Our goal would be that, you know, today we're talking about analytics and automation, each of those other terms that you talked about, whether it's artificial intelligence or machine learning, our goal is to continue to come to market. I think our sweet spot at Intalere and something that we pride ourselves on is that we are able to offer the scale that allows this to be democratized, that allows it to be in the hands of the many at a much more affordable price point and lower effort, but we're able to do it in a way that is custom and is specific for your business unlike some of the larger players where the price points are out of reach, and I think by being able to do that for each of these terms that you've just talked about, you know, today we're talking about analytics and automation, but in the future we'll be looking to complete those offerings and have the solutions really deployable or practical for the average healthcare organization listening to this podcast or the average healthcare organization in the country.

Speaker 1:

Richard, that's great. I really appreciate it and I think hopefully we've done some good in lessening the burden or maybe lessening people's being somewhat scared or intimidated by data and how they can use it within their healthcare facility. If you enjoyed this episode, make sure you subscribe to the Illuminated Path podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. To learn more about Richard or Intalere, check out our show notes and visit our website at Intalere.com. And follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook to learn when the latest episodes will be available and to keep up with all things Intalere.