Healthcare Systems: How to Solve the Data Delivery Problem

Healthcare delivery data delivery

In the George Bernard Shaw’s play Man and Superman, a character states: “The only man who behaved sensibly was my tailor; he took my measurement anew every time he saw me, while all the rest went on with their old measurements and expected them to fit me.”

Aside from being free advertising for skilled tailors (who are worth every penny), this view makes the case for the delivery of healthcare data: it should be customized to align with the parameters of each request, and not doled out in a one-size-fits-all manner. Yet this is what is taking place in many healthcare systems, and has been happening for years.

Think of it like a food store. Yes, everyone in the store is a customer. That is the common denominator. But each customer has their own shopping list and agenda — and it is up to the store to satisfy these expectations.

What is the root problem here? It is that healthcare systems are hierarchical. Consequently, there is not one homogenous cluster of users, but rather various user groups; each of which needs different perspectives and insights. Think of it like a food store. Yes, everyone in the store is a customer. That is the common denominator. But each customer has their own shopping list and agenda — and it is up to the store to satisfy these expectations.

Similarly, all user groups in hospital environments are “shopping” for data. But they are not shopping for the same data. To illustrate this core point, let us focus on three user groups: C-Level, Service Level Directors, and Service Managers.


C-level executives typically want one-page reports that are delivered daily — usually as a push rather than a pull — and which provide at-a-glance indications of variance against budget. Often, this is an organization-wide metric, or a set of metrics for a key initiative (e.g. did hiring of a top neurosurgeon pay off, is a new urgent care center reaching its intended targets, etc.). Questionable or poor values generate outreach to a Service Line Director for an explanation, and a mitigation plan if necessary.

In addition, executives also want special studies on key topics (e.g. merger evaluation, launching new services or locations, reorganizations, etc.). For this information, they usually turn to a team of analysts (or possibly an outside consultant) who makes recommendations. If accepted, these recommendations need to be captured in a board-ready report that includes graphs, charts, and text explaining goals, options, assumptions, conclusions, and next steps.

Service Line Directors (SLD)

SLDs need to see the C-level indicator values, and these absolutely must match what C-level gets. Recall that the first thing that C-level will do after coming across questionable or poor values is contact the SLD. If SLDs and C-level are not looking at the same data, confusion and conflict are inevitable.

In addition, SLDs need reports that provide visibility into how underlying departments are doing, and how they are contributing to the aggregated total. For example, the Director of Outpatient Services needs to drill down into the data and analyze the performance of the lab, radiology, rehab, wound care, sleep management, etc. These reports need to be delivered on a weekly and/or monthly basis, and highlight metrics like volume and revenue compared to budget (current and previous years). Reports also need to include graphics, which help reveal and communicate trends.

Service Managers

Service Managers, who directly report to SLDs, need to stay connected to operational data — and may also need specialized reports — so they can provide answers when actuals deviate from expectations on various relevant metrics (e.g. volumes, expenses, patient satisfaction, etc.). Naturally, Service Managers and SLDs must consistently look at the same data.

What Happens with Delivery Breaks Down

The above scenarios describe how data delivery should happen with respect to three user groups: C-level, SLDs and Service Managers. However, this is not necessarily how data delivery is happening in many healthcare systems. Here are some of the common problems that arise when delivery breaks down:

  • The line of sight is blocked as various user group that need to be in alignment (e.g. C-level and SLDs, SLDs and Service Managers) see different data. This can be different metrics, calculations and/or values.
  • C-level is overwhelmed with too much detail, while SLDs and Service Managers lack sufficient detail. The result, however, is the same:  it is tedious and difficult, if not in some cases impossible, to interpret the data and use it to make better, faster decisions.
  • Manually preparing data is expensive, and despite the added costs reports are often riddled with inconsistencies. Plus, there is no traceability or trending.

And what about shipping reporting to outside agencies? That is not a practical solution, because it simply takes too long. By the time reports are ready, they are months or sometimes quarters out of date. Reports are like milk: they have an expiry date, and failing to heed this warning leads to a great deal of organizational indigestion.

The Solution

Since healthcare systems are hierarchical, the solution is to establish a data delivery system that has this hierarchy at its center. This ensures that each user group (i.e. level in the hierarchy) gets data that conforms to their needs and expectations with respect to:

  • Frequency (once a day for C-Level, once a week for SLDs, etc.).
  • Format (graphs, charts, tables, etc.)
  • Clarity (no clutter or irrelevant data/detail)
  • Mode (a growing number of C-level executives want digital reports sent to their phone/tablet).
  • Visibility (clear line of sight on the contributions of each underlying component/department)
  • Reliability (continuously updated to capture changes in data)
  • Configuration (refreshed to capture changes in the hierarchy itself)
  • Security (protecting data at rest and in transit)

When healthcare systems establish a single, centralized data delivery system that checks all of these boxes — either by mobilizing their in-house experts, or by tapping a proven consulting firm to get it done — they turn confusion into clarity, and like Shaw’s tailor, ensure that each user group’s needs are “taken anew each time.”

Contact Polaris and learn how we can help your healthcare system solve the data delivery problem. We have the expertise and tools to ensure that all of your teams get the insights and answers they need, when they need it.

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