July 14, 2020

Healthcare Unusual: COVID and the Future of Data Analytics

Shawn Sutherland

Topic:   Industry Focus

Last updated: February 2nd, 2021

I had the pleasure of speaking with Healthcare Innovation recently about the lasting effects of COVID on healthcare, particularly on the role of data and analytics. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation.

How has the COVID-19 crisis created a shift in clinical, IT, and operational workflows for your customers?

For many of our public sector and healthcare clients, this pandemic meant rapidly shifting their priorities and resources in real time and without the benefit of a linear recovery timeline. Amid that shift, ibi’s data and analytics solution helps our clients understand what is happening, what is likely to happen, and uncovers areas of opportunity to better prepare them for a “new normal.”

That’s critical because healthcare organizations have faced unprecedented and sustained pressure on care and material resources, while also upscaling telehealth, adapting risk modeling, and supporting a remote workforce. These shifts are happening in parallel and within extremely compressed time-frames. Adapting effectively requires data that is trusted and insights that drive action where it matters most.

What are the core challenges your customers are having to overcome in the face of the pandemic?

For most organizations, I think the core challenge is their ability to pivot. Not solely the speed by which they can course correct, but pivoting with the clarity and confidence that their decisions are informed by trustworthy data and analysis. Our clients have overcome that challenge because they have a scalable, reliable data foundation which makes intelligence pervasive.

The criticality of your data cannot be overstated – simply put, it will determine your organization’s future. Leaders must consider re-prioritizing initiatives and advocating a data vision for their organization.”

I can share an example from one of our large U.S. healthcare system clients. They’ve faced the uncertainty of this pandemic with COVID-19 patient tracking dashboards and cohort building to support care teams. They’ve built volume models and used surge monitoring to direct resources. They adapted their expense management analysis and risk modeling to prepare their organization to rebuild post COVID-19. That’s possible because they have an enterprise-wide data foundation and a data-first culture.

Which digital health innovations are specifically catching your eye in this current moment, and why?

Three areas of particular interest are patient interfaces, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) utilization, and digital-first health surveillance, as each illustrates the transformative value of data.

Chatbots are enabling self-guided care triage via symptom checklists and telehealth connectivity, critically preserving resources and shifting care delivery. They are part of the proving grounds during COVID-19 for AI and machine learning across the care continuum and healthcare ecosystem. We’re seeing AI/ML in everything from the search for therapeutics and vaccine(s) to clinical care support and efficacy evaluation, and predictive resource planning. Lastly, digitally enabled health surveillance, including contact tracing and predicting patient vulnerabilities, is an exciting area to watch. It’s where personal and social determinants of health (SDOH) data converge with traditional care data, aided by new technologies, to create a truly connected health ecosystem – for the individual and the community.

What advice can you offer C-suite healthcare leaders during this time relating to integrating healthcare and technology?

The criticality of your data cannot be overstated – simply put, it will determine your organization’s future. Leaders must consider re-prioritizing initiatives and advocating a data vision for their organization. That means evaluating your cloud strategy, building for interoperability, and investing in digital transformation initiatives so trusted data and intelligence can be embedded in the everyday.

Becoming a data-driven organization requires simultaneous technology implementation, change management, and adoption at every level of leadership and staff. This can only be accomplished with a highly prioritized vision and clear executive leadership and support.

I would also add that it’s critical for C-suite leaders to recognize the impact both rapid and sustained COVID response has on their organization. Organizational resiliency is as much tied to a company’s data as it is to its people and culture. Addressing issues such as burnout must be prioritized alongside data initiatives to help teams move forward together.

What do you believe the future looks like in this area as the virus begins to ebb?

Our “new normal” is on the horizon but it will be shaped by the near ubiquitous impact of this crisis across healthcare. We can expect to see telehealth remain an important part of care delivery, just as data modeling will be a critical tool for organizational recovery and growth.

Long term, we’ll see ever-increasing demand for reliable data and accessible insights. Organizational agility, the ability to pivot, predict and prepare, will have clear strategic value. That value is inseparable from and created by data.

Shawn Sutherland leads Patient and Member Outcomes at ibi. He has spent his career in leadership positions for organizations such as UT Southwestern Medical Center and Baylor Scott & White Health. He brings 20 years of experience, and a wealth of analytics, governance, and EHR knowledge, to ibi’s healthcare team.

Follow him on Twitter @DataMedicine.

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