Though it can be difficult to quantify just when a health organisation has embraced analytics, you usually can tell when its executives are engaged with the data.

"They're excited about providing solutions to improve quality measures, improve patient outcomes," said Joycee Berin, director of business intelligence at UCLA Health, at the Big Data and Healthcare Analytics Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday.

"If that's at the leadership level, I feel we've reached analytics maturity.”

In contrast, some in the C-suite may be stuck in old ways of thinking. They either "don't think analytics is that important," or else they're "not engaged with following through on the insights and making sure we improve workflows to gain that better performance based on data insights," she said.

But as reimbursements shrink, that won't cut it in an era of value-driven demands for quality and cost-efficiencies, said Berin. "Data is the new standard."

Leigh Williams, administrator of business systems at University of Virginia Health System, said that health systems simply have to operate more efficiently as businesses and that means doing many things differently.

The challenge is "how do you judge that when we're used to being very anecdotal?" she said. "That's great, we want to be more efficient. But what does that even mean? How do you achieve that?"

More organisations are "suddenly realising that you can get the hard data," Williams said. The hard part now is "having leaders that are willing to look at it, defining metrics and being very specific about what they're trying to change".

At University of Virginia, for instance, "we're all about a culture of safety: great clinical outcomes, no-harm events," she said.

"But then also productivity and efficiency increases so our labour costs go down – otherwise we're not going to be able to weather the decrease in reimbursement."

That's easier said than done, of course. But one must-have is smart leadership that understands how to translate analytics into action.

"Leaders are able to have those discussions in terms of what specific data they want to look at, picking out those data that will be your benchmarks for your own internal organisation, and then setting a target goal," said Williams.

"We have an entire incentive program around 12 goals. Those metrics are the ones we're trying to move. And they all go toward either improving quality or increasing productivity and efficiency. "

Every morning leaders at the health system have a huddle among the C-suite, she said, and they run down that list, checking in on progress related to each point.

"They're items the leadership has defined as the way we're going to judge our success," Williams said. "How can we get our productivity up? How can we improve ourselves? Where are we today and where do we need to be?"

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