How do we measure quality in healthcare? The question is forever top of mind in an industry where quality is expected yet is difficult to define and measure. 

The U.S. is an outlier in healthcare. We spend more on healthcare per capita than any other wealthy nation but underperform when it comes to many key metrics, including hospital admissions for preventable diseases and rates of medical, medication, and lab errors. 

Bridging the gap between the vast amount of money spent on healthcare and the quality of the outcomes produced has rightfully become a major concern—heightened by the shift to value-based care and resulting value-based payment models.

There's a growing need for health systems to collect not just data, but the right data. Further, we must measure it in a way that provides actionable insights for health plans and regulators and, more importantly, for patients and providers. 

Fortunately, hospitals have a lot of data at their fingertips. As more health systems learn how to integrate and capitalize on their quality data, the path to improved outcomes becomes clearer. 

Here are three ways health systems use data to improve the quality of care they provide and change their processes for the better.  

1. Benchmark using scorecards and dashboards 

At the crux of quality improvement is the notion that if you don't measure something, you can't make it better, or even demonstrate that you’re attempting to improve it. It's up to health systems and individual hospitals—using guidelines from regulators, accreditors, medical specialty organizations, and trusted industry resources—to establish best practices for long-term quality improvement. For that, they need data—and lots of it. 

Scoreboards and dashboards are digital tools hospitals use to track their quality performance, minute by minute and over longer periods of time. Hospital leaders manage scorecards, which serve as benchmarking tools to evaluate performance on predetermined quality metrics. Frontline staff manage dashboards, which are updated “on the floor” for constant monitoring of quality successes and failures. 

These tools are evidence not only of individual hospitals' efforts to improve quality, but reflect a complete overhaul of the way the entire healthcare system approaches data analytics. For example, today 83% of hospitals expect their C-suite employees to have health IT experience. There's also a strong expectation that staff at all levels will collect quality data and use it to present actionable insights in more compelling ways than in standard spreadsheets and tables.  

2. Put laboratory data to work 

Some of a health system's most valuable data lives in the lab. Laboratory data, particularly diagnostic data, gives critical insight into the health of patient populations. If used effectively, this data could save the U.S. healthcare industry an estimated $900 million a year in avoidable costs. 

But making appropriate use of lab data means going beyond simple patient-health monitoring. Hospitals that want to see marked quality improvements can use the information gleaned from diagnostic tests to make rapid decisions based on real-time findings, instead of offering broad treatments that may or may not address actual care concerns. The results: fewer ICU and general hospital admissions, reduced lengths of stay, and fewer on-site infections. 

3. Monitor patient-reported outcomes 

Patients are among a health system’s best resources for gleaning information about the quality of their care. And it makes sense: Administrators may regulate quality “from above,” but patients directly experience the wins and losses of a hospital's performance. 

Health systems collect and use patient-reported outcomes measures (PROMs) in many ways, and just two examples follow: 

  • There's PROMIS (Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System), for example, a statistically validated tool created with funding from the National Institutes of Health. PROMIS simplifies the process of collecting patient insights at each stage of care using digital surveys that provide highly detailed reports for decision making by providers and leaders.
  • There are also less-formal practices for collecting PROMs, including feedback forms provided to patients at the end of their hospital stays. These surveys ask patients to rate their care and weigh in on whether their goals and expectations were met. 

The data collected through PROMs may be inherently subjective, but it provides hospitals with guidance for improving quality at the patient level. Patients are the purveyors of hospital services, so it makes sense that their opinions and experiences would be a centralized concern of facilities seeking to improve wherever possible. 

As health systems consolidate and patients become savvier consumers, the onus is on hospitals to determine the best methods to collect and measure the data that matters most.  

For assistance putting your hospital's data to work to measure quality improvements, explore symplr’s Midas Health Analytics solutions or schedule a call with one of our experts  to discuss your facility's unique data needs. 

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