Best Business Decision Making Tool Ever?

Those of you who know me, know that I have spent my career as both an Entrepreneur and more recently … an Intrapreneur.   I have also been on a slightly quirky quest to find useful tools and models that will enable me to make better, more objective decisions that increase the chance of success and minimize risks.

Whether you call yourself an Intrapreneur or not, you probably have a need to make decisions about your own projects. Which brings me to today’s posting. I have come to rely on a handful of basic but indispensible tools and am curious about whether these are same tools and methods that everyone else relies on.

My favorite tool by far is the SWOT Analysis. I have used it hundreds of times over the years for everything from personal career planning to many different business situational assessments. I even used it to start the project that eventually became IBM’s Patient Care and Insights solution. At the time, we were trying to decide how to approach bringing a major breakthrough in healthcare analytics innovation to market that has been invented by IBM Research named Patient Similarity Analytics … and it all started with a SWOT Analysis.

A SWOT Analysis is an easy to understand and versatile way to assess your position at any point in time. Think of it a tool to assess any situation from 4 different positions or perspectives (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats).  It can be as simple as making a list for each of the SWOT categories. There are many different ways to apply and use SWOT Analysis. It’s power is in it’s versatility.  Once the items are listed, decision making becomes easier bordering on obvious. The listed items can also be scored or weighted with other relevant information such as likelihood, impact, etc.

Strengths

  • List strength 1
  • List strength 2
  • List strength 3

Weaknesses

  • List weakness 1
  • List weakness 2
  • List weakness 3 
Opportunities

  • List opportunity 1
  • List opportunity 2
  • List opportunity 3
Threats

  • List threat 1
  • List threat 2
  • List threat 3

Catherine Kaputa has a wonderful way to use SWOT as a career / personal brand assessment in her book on personal branding titled “You Are A Brand”

Eisenhower Analysis

Credited to Dwight D. Eisenhower, an Eisenhower Analysis (also known as the Eisenhower Box, or Decision Matrix) is a time management or prioritization tool. It is best used when trying prioritize, organize or otherwise get control of a situation or workload. The goal is to easily recognize the highest priority items from the noise. As an example, many people confuse “urgent” work with “important” work and this helps bring clarity to those kinds of issues. Once the items are listed, prioritizing is clear. Like SWOT, the listed items can also be scored or weighted with other relevant information such as likelihood, impact, etc.

Urgent and Important (1)

  • List urgent important item 1
  • List urgent important item 2
  • List urgent important item 3
Important (2)

  • List important item 1
  • List important item 2
  • List important item 3
Urgent (3)

  • List urgent item 1
  • List urgent item 2
  • List urgent item 3
Neither Urgent nor Important (4)

  • List non-urgent non-important item 1
  • List non-urgent non-important item 2
  • List non-urgent non-important item 3

Franklin Analysis (Pros / Cons)

Credited to Benjamin Franklin, the Franklin Analysis (also known as the pros and cons analysis) is a comparison tool for decision making … typically in a list format. It is used when comparing the pros (positives, pluses or benefits) to the cons (negatives, minuses or costs). This tool is most effective when there are many items to consider and the decision is not obvious. Many people bring emotion into decision making and this approach helps keep an objective perspective. Like the SWOT and Eisenhower approaches, the listed items can also be scored or weighted with other relevant information such as degree of importance, etc.   Totals can even be calculated from the weighted scores.

Pros

  • List positive item 1
  • List positive item 2
  • List positive item 3
  • List positive item 4
  • List positive item 5
Cons

  • List negative item 1
  • List negative item 2
  • List negative item 3
  • List negative item 4
  • List negative item 5

There are literally hundreds of decision making models and approaches but I kept this list to the most well known. What is your favorite tool? As always, leave me your thoughts and ideas here.

Entrepreneurship Alive and Well in Local DC Area

I had lunch recently with my good friend and local entrepreneurial legend Ching-Ho Fung.  Ching-Ho was the Chairman of Parature until the recent sale to Microsoft in January for $100 million.  We were both in a reflective mood and discussed the state of entrepreneurship in the DC region.  I was struck how much is happening in support of entrepreneurship.

Along those lines, I attended a DC I-Corps event on 3/28 on the recommendation of Jim Chung, the Executive Director of Entrepreneurship and Technology Transfer for George Washington University.  DC I-Corps is a regional program designed to foster, grow and nurture an innovation ecosystem in the nation’s capital, the nearby states of Maryland and Virginia, and the mid-Atlantic region.  It is sponsored by the National Science Foundation and jointly run by the University of Maryland College Park, George Washington University, and Virginia Tech.

The event featured presentations by four “teams” who are graduating to the next phase of the program and will/may become ventures one day soon.  Keep an eye out for ToxFix, ReadAhead, SmartPupilometer and RedShred.  All four look promising because they address real-world problems.  It’s part of the “Evidence Based Entrepreneurship” concept taught within the program.  I was particularly fascinated with RedShred as their RFP response solution is based on natural language processing techniques … something I have blogged about many times.  It’s a great example of a burgeoning Cognitive Computing solution.

Interestingly … the definition of a start-up by the I-Corps program is “A temporary organization designed to search for a scalable repeatable business model”.  I love this concept since it teaches entrepreneurs to find problems first that they can then address with a solution (and it’s value) before anything else.  It’s the right model.

I can’t tell you how many meetings I’ve been in where some product manager is trying to apply the “every problem looks like a nail if you are a hammer” mentality.  That’s the wrong model.  Additionally, many entrepreneurs think the first thing they need to do to find venture capital.  There is a place for that but it’s not first.

I-Corps has gotten it right.  From what I can tell, this looks like a good program for anyone with an idea, or invention, to get started on the right foot.  In recent years, all of the local universities seem to be been expanding their focus on entrepreneurship.

The Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship at the University of Maryland have certainly expanded their offerings.  Next for them is the 2014 Cupid’s Cup Business Competition.

I plan to attend that one as well … and hope to see you there.  I also plan to blog more on both entrepreneurship (as well as intrapreneurship) going forward … so stop back soon.

As always, leave me your thoughts and comments below.

 

 

 

How Do Data Loopholes Slow Down the Treatment of Breast Cancer?

Considering it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the timing of this post is hopefully helping a very important cause.  For reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve recently become more familiar with breast cancer then I would have otherwise.  When confronted with a new topic of interest, it’s my nature to dig in and learn everything I can about it.

The National Cancer Institute provides a wealth of information on breast cancer but being a “software guy” … the way a mammogram results combined with a clinical breast exam can detect early signs of cancer stood out to me as an important information issue.

I began to wonder where that information was captured and stored (after the test and examination) … and how it was ultimately used in follow-up care with the patient.  I didn’t expect to learn what I did.

The American College of Radiology (ACR) has established a uniform way for radiologists to describe mammogram findings.  The system is called BI-RADS and includes standardized structured codes or values.  Each BI-RADS code has a follow-up plan associated with it to help radiologists and other physicians manage a patient’s care.  These values are often used to trigger notifications of the findings or other follow-up steps.  This makes perfect sense to me except there is a (big data loophole) problem.

The BI-RAD findings (or values) are typically found on a text based report … or determined by the examining physician.  They are then captured or manually transcribed in the EMR as free text notes that are added to the medical record as text … unstructured data living in a structured data environment.  This is the loophole!  It’s technically there but not able to be used.

Sometimes this step can be missed completely and the results are not put into the EMR system at all (human error) … or, more likely, the BI-RAD value is not transcribed in the right place as a structured data field.  There are just two of the reasons reasons this loophole can be caused.

You may not be aware, but an Electronic Medical Records (EMR) system is generally optimized for structured data.  Most EMRs don’t leverage text based unstructured data (test results, physician notes, observations, findings, etc.) in ways that they could.  It’s a known weakness of many of today’s EMR systems.

To net this out … it’s entirely possible that cancer is detected using the BI-RADS value but the information does not find it’s way into the right place in the EMR system because it’s text based and the EMR cannot recognize it.  This EMR system limitation has no way of determining what the text based information is, or how to use it.

The impact of this is staggering.  Let’s think about this in terms of timely follow-up on cancer detection.  A system that is not able to use the BI-RAD value could mean patients are not being followed-up on properly (or at all) – even though they are diagnosed with breast cancer.  Yes, this  can actually happen if the value is buried in the text and not being used by the EMR.  The unstructured data loophole is a big deal!

Don’t take my word for it.  University of North Carolina Health Care (UNCH) has announced new findings from mining clinical data to improve the accuracy of its 2012 Physician Quality Reporting System (PQRS) measures, achieving double digit quality improvements in the areas of mammogram, colon cancer and pneumonia screening.  They are taking steps to close data loopholes.

The new findings indicate mammogram values are present in structured data 52% of the time … and present in unstructured data 48% of the time.  Almost half the time the unstructured data is not presented with the rest of the structured data.  Ouch, that’s a big data loophole.

The new findings also indicate CRC screening (colon cancer) values are present in structured data just 17% of the time … and present in unstructured data 83% of the time.  As a man of a certain age, this scares me in words that can’t be published.  Another big data loophole.

Thankfully leading organizations like UNCH are closing these data loopholes today with solutions that understand unstructured data and can “structure it” for use in EMR systems … pasted from an IBM press release dated today:

Timely Follow-up of Abnormal Cancer Screening Results:  Follow-up care for patients with abnormal tests is often delayed because the results are buried in electronic medical records.  Using IBM Content Analytics, UNCHC can extract abnormal results from cancer screening reports such as mammograms and colonoscopies and store the results as structured data.  The structured results are used to generate alerts immediately for physicians to proactively follow-up with patients that have abnormal cancer screening results.

This is an example of what IBM calls Smarter Care … where advanced analytics and cognitive computing can enable more holistic approach to individuals’ care, and can lead to an evolution in care delivery, with the potential for more effective outcomes and lower costs.  If an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, an ounce of perspective extracted from a ton of data is priceless in potential savings.  IBM Content Analytics is part of the IBM Patient Care and Insights solution suite.

I’ve written several previous blogs on related topics that you might find interesting:

I am also speaking at the PCPCC Annual Fall Conference next Monday October 14th at 10am and will be discussing Smarter Care, UNCH’s findings and more.  Hope to see you there.

As always, leave me your feedback, questions and suggestions.

Healthcare Data is the New Oil: Delivering Smarter Care with Advanced Analytics

It has been said that “data” is the new “oil” of the 21st century.  That is certainly true in healthcare where a unique opportunity exists to leverage data – as fuel for better health outcomes.  Everything that happens with our health is documented … initially this was on paper … and more recently, in the form of electronic medical records.

Despite billions of incentive dollars being dolled out by the federal government to purchase Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems and use in meaningful ways, there continues to be significant dissatisfaction with these systems.

In a recent Black Book Rankings survey, 80% surveyed claim their EMR solution does not meet the practice’s individual needs.  This is consistent with my own observations, where many express frustration that “the information goes in … but rarely, if ever, comes out”.

If the information never comes out, or it’s too hard to access, are we really maximizing its value?

It all boils down to our ability to leverage years and years of longitudinal patient population data to surface currently hidden insights … and put those insights to work to improve care.

It’s incredibly powerful to combine years of clinical patient population data (longitudinal patient histories) with other types of data such as social and lifestyle factors to surface new trends, patterns, anomalies and deviations.  These complex medical relationships (or context) trapped in the data are the key to identifying new ways to achieve better health outcomes.  Some organizations are already empowering physicians with these new insights.

Context can be critical in a lot of situations—but in healthcare, especially, it can be the difference between preventing a hospital readmission or not. It’s not enough, for example, to know that a patient has diabetes and smokes a pack of cigarettes each week. These factors are only part of the whole picture. Does she live on her own, with family or in a care facility? Does she have a knee injury that prevents her from an active exercise program? Has she been treated for any other illnesses recently? Did she experience a recent life-changing event, such as moving homes, getting a new job or having a baby? Is she able to cook meals for herself, does she rely on someone else to cook, or does she frequent cafeterias, restaurants or take-out windows?

All of these things and more can—and should—influence a patient’s care plan, because these are the factors that help determine which treatments will be most successful for each individual. And as our population grows and ages, a greater focus on individual wellness and increasing economic pressures are forcing providers, insurers, individuals and government agencies to find new ways to optimize healthcare outcomes while controlling costs.
Today’s data-driven healthcare environment provides the raw materials (or “oil”) to fuel this kind of personalized care, and make it cost-effective as well. But it takes savvy analysis to turn that data into the kind of reports and recommendations providers, patients and communities need to make informed decisions.

The good news: IBM is uniquely positioned to help organizations and individuals achieve these goals. The IBM® Smarter Care initiative draws on a comprehensive portfolio of advanced IBM technologies and services to help generate new patient insights that can improve the quality of care; facilitate collaboration among organizations, patients, government agencies and other groups; and promote wellness through a range of public health and social programs.

IBM Patient Care and Insights is a key component of the Smarter Care initiative. By incorporating advanced analytics with care management capabilities, Patient Care and Insights can produce valuable insights and enable holistic, individualized care.

Advanced analytics: Leading the way to Smarter Care

Several leading healthcare organizations are already on the path to Smarter Care and demonstrating the real-world benefits of advanced analytics from IBM. For example, in St. Louis, Missouri, BJC HealthCare—one of the largest nonprofit healthcare systems in the United States—is using natural language processing (NLP) and content analytics capabilities from IBM to extract information from patient records that are valuable for clinical research. By tapping into unstructured data, such as text-based doctors notes, BJC HealthCare is surfacing important social factors, demographic information and behavioral patterns that would otherwise be hidden from researchers.

BJC HealthCare is also using IBM technologies to reduce hospital readmissions for chronic heart failure (CHF). The organization is analyzing clinical data such as ejection fraction metrics (which represent the volume of blood pumped out of the heart with each beat) to better predict which patients are most likely to be readmitted. These insights enable providers to implement tailored interventions that can avoid some readmissions.

The University of North Carolina (UNC) Health Care is using Patient Care and Insights for three new pilot projects. First, UNC is employing NLP and content analytics on free-text clinical notes to discover predictors of hospital readmission, identifying patients at risk and improving pre-admission prediction models.

UNC is also using IBM technology to empower patients. IBM NLP technology is helping to transform clinical data contained electronic medical records (EMRs) into a format that can be presented to patients through an easy-to-use portal. Streamlined access to information will help patients make more informed decisions and encourage deeper participation in their own care.

Finally, UNC is using NLP to help generate alerts and reminders for physicians. With NLP, the organization is extracting key unstructured data from EMRs, such as abnormal cancer test results, and then storing this data in a structured form within a data warehouse. The structured data can then be used to produce alerts for prompt follow-up care.

This is just the beginning. As organizations continue to launch new projects that capitalize on advanced analytics, case management and other technologies from IBM, we expect to see some very innovative approaches to delivering Smarter Care.

Learn more about IBM Smarter Care by visiting:

ibm.com/smarterplanet/us/en/smarter_care/overview/

For more about IBM Patient Care and Insights, visit:

ibm.com/software/ecm/patient-care/

As always, share your comments or questions below.

Moving Beyond One-Size-Fits-All Medicine to Data-Driven Insights with Similarity Analytics

Traditionally, Doctors have been oriented toward diagnosing and treating individual organ systems.  Clinical trials and medical research has typically focused on one disease at a time.  And today’s treatment guidelines are geared toward treating a “standard” patient with a single illness.

That’s nice… But the real world doesn’t work that way.

Most of us patients do not fit these narrow profiles … especially as we grow older and things get complicated.  We (patients) might display symptoms common to a variety of illnesses, or might already be suffering from multiple diseases.  Almost 25% of Medicaid patients have at least five comorbidities.[1]

This might explain why it’s estimated that physicians deviate from the recommended guidelines 40% of the time.  It might also explain why there is a real thirst in healthcare for evidence-based insights derived from patient population data.

In other industries, data-driven insights are often the only way organizations work with their customers.  Think of retailing and Amazon.com.  Amazon analyzes your past purchases, your past clicks and other data to anticipate what you might need and present you with a variety of options all based on data driven insights.  You might think that by now, every industry would analyze data from the past to predict the future.

That’s not true in healthcare where treating complex patients can be challenging and technology to handle this level of complexity really hasn’t existed.  Treatment guidelines are sometimes vague and may not exist at all when a patient has multiple diseases or is at risk for developing them.  In other words, one-size-fits-all approaches tend to be self limiting.

Treating patients with multiple conditions is also costly. In fact, 76% of all Medicare expenditures apply to patients with five or more chronic conditions.[2]  To reduce costs, doctors need ways to identify early intervention opportunities that address not only the primary disease but also any additional conditions that a patient might develop.

Consequently, Doctors are forced to adopt ad hoc strategies that include relying on their own personal experiences (and knowledge) among other approaches.  Straying from those guidelines (where available) might not deliver the best outcomes but it’s been the only option they have … until now

Similarity analytics offers a way to augment traditional treatment guidelines, enabling healthcare providers to use individual patient data (including both structured and unstructured data) as well as insights from a similar patient population to enhance clinical decision-making.  With similarity analytics, healthcare providers and payers can move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to deliver data-driven, personalized care that helps improve outcomes, increase the quality of care and reduce costs.

IBM similarity analytics capabilities, developed by IBM Research, play an essential role in IBM Patient Care and Insights … a comprehensive healthcare solution that provides a range of advanced analytics capabilities to support patient-centered care processes.  Here is a link to a video (with yours truly) from the recent launch in Las Vegas (my part starts at 8:45 mins).

How do similarity analytics capabilities work?

Let’s take an elderly patient with diabetes (a chronic disease) who presents with ankle swelling, dyspnea (difficulty breathing) and rales (a rattling sound heard during examination with a stethoscope).   Diabetes by itself is bad enough … but the care process gets more complicated (and more costly) when other comorbid conditions are present.

With these reported symptoms and observed signs, the patient might be at risk for other chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure.  But exactly how much at risk and when?

In the past, Doctors have had no way of knowing this.  There are tens of thousands of possible dimensions that need to be understood, analyzed and compared to get an answer to this question.  Think of a spreadsheet where the patient is a single row … and in that spreadsheet and there are 30,000 columns of data that need to be analyzed in an instant … and someone’s life could be at stake based on the outcome of the analysis.  In other words, Doctors have been handicapped in their ability to deliver quality care because of the absence of this type of analysis.

With IBM Patient Care and Insights (IPCI), a healthcare organization can collect and integrate a broad range of patient data from electronic medical records systems and other data sources (such as claims, socioeconomic and operational) … from past test results to clinical notes … into a single, longitudinal record.  Similarity analytics then enables the provider to draw on this comprehensive collection of data to compare the patient with other patients in a larger population.  With IBM Similarity Analytics (part of IPCI), the provider can analyze tens of thousands of possible comparison points to find similar patients … those patients with the most similar clinical traits at the same point in their disease progression as the patient in question.

Why is finding similar patients helpful?  First, providers can see what primary diagnoses and treatments have been applied to similar patients … some diagnoses and treatments might have otherwise eluded Doctors.  Second, providers (and payers) can identify hidden intervention opportunities … such as an illness that the patient is at risk of developing or the risk of the patient’s current condition deteriorating.  Surfacing hidden intervention opportunities is critical in addressing the costs and complexity of healthcare … especially when treating patients with multiple diseases.

Importantly, providers can also predict potential outcomes for an individual patient based on the outcomes of similar patients. Knowing what has happened to a patient’s peer group given certain treatments can help doctors hone in on the right intervention for this particular patient … before things take a turn for the worse.

There are many areas where similarity analytics are helpful.  Disease onset prediction, readmissions prevention, physician matching, resource utilization and management and drug treatment efficacy are just a few of the use cases.  My colleagues in IBM Research have been working on this technology for years.

By finding similar patients, pinpointing risks and helping to predict results, similarity analytics can ultimately help healthcare providers and payers improve the quality of care and deliver better outcomes, even for patients with multiple illnesses.  By working with other analytics capabilities to enable providers to apply the right interventions earlier, similarity analytics can also help pinpoint the specific risk factors for a given patient.  Those risk factors can become the basis for an individualized care plan.

In a future blog post, I’ll focus on the care management capabilities of IBM Patient Care and Insights so you can see how this solution helps put analytics insights into action.

Until then, learn more about IBM Patient Care and Insights by visiting:

http://www-01.ibm.com/software/ecm/patient-care/

Read specifically about IBM Research and Similarity Analytics by visiting:

http://ibmresearchnews.blogspot.com/2012/10/data-driven-healthcare-analytics-from.html

As always …  look forward to reading your comments and questions.


[1] Projection of Chronic Illness Prevalence and Cost Inflation from RAND Health, October 2000.

[2] KE Thorpe and DH Howard, “The rise in spending among Medicare beneficiaries: the role of chronic disease prevalence and changes in treatment intensity,” <link: http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/25/5/w378.full&gt; Health Affairs 25:5 (2006): 378–388.

Advanced Analytics … The Next Big Thing in Healthcare

If you are in the healthcare industry, you know you’ are facing a number of significant challenges. First and foremost, you are being asked to meet rising expectations for higher-quality care, better outcomes and lower costs. But at the same time, you face a critical shortage of resources and an aging population that will require a greater portion of those limited resources every day.

Chronic diseases present some of the toughest challenges. Approximately 45 percent of adults in the United States have at least one chronic illness.[1] Those chronic illnesses not only make life difficult for patients, they also stretch healthcare resources thin and cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion annually.[2]

Advanced analytics can give you an edge in balancing all of these demands, and in figuring out how to continue the balancing act as the industry evolves. With advanced analytics, you can leverage a broader range of patient information and surface early, targeted intervention opportunities that ultimately help you enhance the quality of care, improve outcomes and reduce costs.

Content Analytics

Content Analytics capabilities, such as those offered through IBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare, can help you analyze a wider range of patient information than you could before. In the past, analytics solutions were frequently limited to structured data—such as the data found in electronic medical record (EMR) and claims systems. But content analytics lets you incorporate unstructured sources as well, including doctors’ dictated notes, discharge orders, radiology reports, faxes and more.  Powerful natural language processing is at work to enable this.

To see how valuable that unstructured information can be in uncovering insights, read my previous blog post, “Playing the Healthcare Analytics Shell Game.”

Predictive Analytics

Predictive analysis capabilities can help you identify patients at risk for developing additional illnesses or requiring further interventions. You can use predictive modeling, trending and scoring to anticipate patient outcomes and evaluate the potential effects of new interventions. 

Similarity Analytics

Using patient similarity analytics capabilities, such as those developed by IBM Research, a provider could examine thousands of patient attributes at once. That includes not only clinical attributes but also demographic, social and financial ones. By assessing similarities of attributes in broad patient population, providers can better anticipate disease onset, compare treatment effectiveness and develop more targeted healthcare plans.

Surface new intervention opportunities

The insights you gain from these analytics capabilities are the keys to  discovering opportunities for new, individualized and highly targeted patient interventions—interventions that can reduce expensive hospital readmissions for chronic patients, avoid the onset of other illnesses, prevent postoperative infections, slow the deterioration of conditions and more. That all adds up to better care and better outcomes at a lower cost.

In future posts, I’ll present a more in-depth discussion of patient similarity analytics and examine how advanced analytics can be integrated with care management.  In the meantime, I’d be eager to read your comments and questions.  In the mean time, check out some of the analytics research currently underway at IBM Research,


[1] S.Y. Wu, A. Green, “Projection of chronic illness prevalence and cost inflation,” RAND Health, 2000.

[2] Milken Institute, “An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease Charting a New Course to Save Lives and Increase Productivity and Economic Growth,” October 2007, http://www.milkeninstitute.org/healthreform/pdf/AnUnhealthyAmericaExecSumm.pdf.

Playing The Healthcare Analytics Shell Game

When I think of how most healthcare organizations are analyzing their clinical data today … I get a mental picture of the old depression era shell game – one that takes place in the shadows and back alleys. For many who were down and out, those games were their only means of survival.

The shell game (also known as Thimblerig) is a game of chance. It requires three walnut shells (or thimbles, plastic cups, whatever) and a small round ball, about the size of a pea, or even an actual pea. It is played on almost any flat surface. This conjures images of depression era men huddled together … each hoping to win some money to buy food … or support their vices. Can you imagine playing a shell game just to win some money so you could afford to eat? A bit dramatic I know – but not too far off the mark.

The person perpetrating the game (called the thimblerigger, operator, or shell man) started the game by putting the pea under one of the shells. The shells were quickly shuffled or slid around to confuse and mislead the players as to which of the shells the pea is actually under … and the betting ensued. We now know, that the games were usually rigged. Many people were conned and never had a chance to win at all. The pea was often palmed or hidden, and not under any of the shells … in other words, there were no winners.

Many healthcare analytics systems and projects are exactly like that today – lots of players and no pea. The main component needed to win (or gain the key insight) is missing.  The “pea” … in this case, is unstructured data. And while it’s not a con game, finding the pea is the key to success … and can literally be the difference between life and death. Making medical decisions about a patient’s health is pretty important stuff. I want my care givers using all of the available and relevant information (medical evidence) as part of my care.

In healthcare today, most analytics initiatives and research efforts are done by using structured data only (which only represents 20% of the available data). I am not kidding.

This is like betting on a shell game without playing with the pea – it’s not possible to win and you are just wasting your money. In healthcare, critical clinical information (or the pea) is trapped in the unstructured data, free text, images, recordings and other forms of content. Nurse’s notes, lab results and discharge summaries are just a few examples of unstructured information that should be analyzed but in most cases … are not.

The reason used to be (for not doing this) … it’s too hard, too complicated, too costly, not good enough or some combination of the above. This was a show stopper for many.

Well guess what … those days are over. The technology needed to do this is available today and the reasons for inaction no longer apply.

In fact – this is now a healthcare imperative! Consider that over 80% of information is unstructured. Why would you even want to do analysis on only 1/5th of your available information?

I’ve written about the value of analyzing unstructured data in the past with Healthcare and ECM – What’s Up Doc? (part 1) and Healthcare and ECM – What’s Up Doc? (part 2).

Let’s look at the results from an actual project involving the analysis of both structured and unstructured data to see what is now possible (when you play “with the pea”).

Seton Family Healthcare is analyzing both structured and unstructured clinical (and operational) data today. Not surprisingly, they are ranked as the top health care system in Texas and among the top 100 integrated health care systems in the country. They are currently featured in a Forbes article describing how they are transforming healthcare delivery with the use of IBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare. This is a new “smarter analytics” solution that leverages unstructured data with the same natural language processing technology found in IBM Watson.

Seton’s efforts are focused on preventing hospital readmissions of Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) patients through analysis and visualization of newly created evidence based information. Why CHF?  (see the video overview)

Heart disease has long been the leading cause of death in the United States. The most recent data from the CDC shows that heart disease accounted for over 27% of overall mortality in the U.S. The overall costs of treating heart disease are also on the rise – estimated to have been $183 billion in 2009. This is expected to increase to $186 billion in 2023. In 2006 alone, Medicare spent $24 billion on heart disease. Yikes!

Combine those staggering numbers with the fact that CHF patients are the leading cause of readmissions in the United States. One in five patients suffer from preventable readmissions, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Preventable readmissions also represent a whopping $17.4 billion in expenditures from the current $102.6 billion Medicare budget. Wow! How can they afford to pay for everything else?

They can’t … beginning in 2012, those hospitals with high readmission rates will be penalized. Given the above numbers, it shouldn’t be a shock that the new Medicare penalties will start with CHF readmissions. I imagine every hospital is paying attention to this right now.

Back to Seton … the work at Seton really underscores the value of analyzing your unstructured data. Here is a snapshot of some of the findings:

The Data We Thought Would Be Useful … Wasn’t

In some cases, the unstructured data is more valuable and more trustworthy then the structured data:

  • Left Ventricle Ejection Fraction (LVEF) values are found in both places but originate in text based lab results/reports. This is a test measurement of how much blood your left ventricle is pumping. Values of less than 50% can be an indicator of CHF. These values were found in just 2% of the structured data from patient encounters and 74% of the unstructured data from the same encounters.
  • Smoking Status indicators are also found in both places. I’ve written about this exact issue before in Healthcare and ECM – What’s Up Doc? (part 2). Indicators that a patient was smoking were found in 35% of the structured data from encounters and 81% of the unstructured data from the same encounters. But here’s the kicker … the structured data values were only 65% accurate and the unstructured data values were 95% accurate.

You tell me which is more valuable and trustworthy.

In other cases, the key insights could only be found from the unstructured data … as was no structured data at all or enough to be meaningful. This is equally as powerful.

  • Living Arrangement indicators were found in <1% of the structured data from the patient encounters. It was the unstructured data that revealed these insights (in 81% of the patient encounters). These unstructured values were also 100% accurate.
  • Drug and Alcohol Abuse indicators … same thing … 16% and 81% respectively.
  • Assisted Living indicators … same thing … 0% and 13% respectively. Even though only 13% of the encounters had a value, it was significant enough to rank in the top 18 of all predictors for CHF readmissions.

What this means … is that without including the unstructured data in the analysis, the ability to make accurate predictions about readmissions is highly compromised. In other words, it significantly undermines (or even prevents) the identification of the patients who are most at risk of readmission … and the most in need of care. HINT – Don’t play the game without the pea.

New Unexpected Indicators Emerged … CHF is a Highly Predictive Model

We started with 113 candidate predictors from structured and unstructured data sources. This list was expanded when new insights were surfaced like those mentioned above (and others). With the “right” information being analyzed the accuracy is compelling … the predictive accuracy was 49% at the 20th percentile and 97% at the 80th percentile. This means predictions about CHF readmissions should be pretty darn accurate.

18 Top CHF Readmission Predictors and Some Key Insights

The goal was not to find the top 18 predictors of readmissions … but to find the ones where taking a coordinated care approach makes sense and can change an outcome. Even though these predictors are specific to Seton’s patient population, they can serve as a baseline for others to start from.

  • Many of the highest indicators of CHF are not high predictors of 30-day readmissions. One might think LVEF values and Smoking Status are also high indicators of the probability of readmission … they are not. This could  only be determined through the analysis of both structured and unstructured data.
  • Some of the 18 predictors cannot impact the ability to reduce 30-day admissions. At least six fall into this category and examples include … Heart Disease History, Heart Attack History and Paid by Medicaid Indicator.
  • Many of the 18 predictors can impact the ability to reduce 30-day admissions and represent an opportunity to improve care through coordinated patient care. At least six fall into this category and examples include … Self Alcohol / Drug Use Indicator, Assisted Living Indicator, Lack of Emotion Support Indicator and Low Sodium Level Indicator. Social factors weigh heavily in determining those at risk of readmission and represent the best opportunity for coordinated/transitional care or ongoing case management.
  • The number one indicator came out of left field … Jugular Venous Distention Indicator. This was not one of the original 113 candidate indicators and only surfaced through the analysis of both structured and unstructured data (or finding the pea). For the non-cardiologists out there … this is when the jugular vein protrudes due to the associated pressure. It can be caused by a fluids imbalance or being “dried out”. This is a condition that would be observed by a clinician and would now be a key consideration of when to discharge a patient. It could also factor into any follow-up transitional care/case management programs.

But Wait … There’s More

Seton also examined other scenarios including resource utilization and identifying key waste areas (or unnecessary costs). We also studied Patient X – a random patient with 6 readmission encounters over an eight-month period. I’ll save Patient X for my next posting.

Smarter Analytics and Smarter Healthcare

It’s easy to see why Seton is ranked as the top health care system in Texas and among the top 100 integrated health care systems in the country. They are a shining example of an organization on the forefront of the healthcare transformation. The way they have put their content in motion with analytics to improve patient care, reduce unnecessary costs and avoid the Medicare penalties is something all healthcare organizations should strive for.

Perhaps most impressively, they’ve figured out how to play the healthcare analytics shell game and find the pea every time.  In doing so … everyone wins!

As always, leave me your comments and thoughts.

Why My Beloved iPhone Now Makes Me Sick To My Stomach

I didn’t know it at the time but my love affair with Apple began on November 22, 1983 … the day I bought my first business.   I was 22.  That fateful decision changed my life in many ways …  and also unexpectedly started a 30-year infatuation with Apple.  My business partner and I purchased a well established, and well known, family owned photo and computer business in the Baltimore-Washington metro area.  The business had a retail component but the real growth (and opportunity) was coming from the commercial division who was just starting to sell personal computers.  Our strength was selling to educational systems.  We eventually sold the business but that’s another story.

In 1983, the computer business was very different world.  Personal computers were just starting to catch on.  This was long before the Macintosh took the world by storm in the mid-80s.  There were a number of players, operating systems and technical approaches vying for viability but markets were beginning to settle around the following segments: personal computers for hobbyists (Commodore 64 and others), personal computers for business (IBM PC and compatibles), and personal computers for education (Apple II series).  Commodore and others faded as Apple and IBM (based on the Microsoft DOS operating system) were the two surviving approaches.  This was long before Windows and is still true today.  The winners from the early 80s are still the winners today.  Even though IBM smartly exited the PC business in 2005, the battle is still fought today between Apple and Microsoft powered personal computers.

Back to 1983 … there were no cell phones, no Internet, no e-commerce, no Apple stores and computers were manufactured in the USA … not in China.  Both Apple and IBM used resellers (or dealers) as their sales channels to market.  Apple even had a unique “black” version of the Apple II that was only sold to schools.  This is where we came in.  We used to sell Apple IIs by the truckload (literally).  We also customized and serviced them from the ground up.

Through all this, I developed an insider’s perspective and a fondness for Apple.  My respect and admiration for Apple has grown over the years.  I’ve stayed connected and involved with Apple in one way or another at key stages of my career.  I applauded the major successes (Macintosh, iPhone, iPad) and chuckled at the failures (Newton, Lisa, MobileMe).  I’ve never had a reason to think poorly of the company.  Until now.

It’s no secret I work for IBM today (see the personal opinion disclaimer).  IBM and Apple haven’t competed with each another for years.  One is corporate … the other is consumer.  I point this out because I have no agenda driving me to write this other then my conscious.

Today, Apple is the most successful consumer technology company by just about any measure.  Skyrocketing stock price, top 10 brand recognition and tons of cash  (~$97 billion).   Apple also stunned everyone with their recent earnings announcement.  During the last quarter of 2011, they made ~$13 billion in profit.   That’s more than twice as much for the same period in 2010, and more than any company has ever earned during a single financial quarter … except one.   Exxon Mobil made over $14 billion in a single quarter (thanks to high oil prices) in 2008.

Are you kidding me?!?!  Congratulations!  They deserve all the spoils and accolades.  Their products work better and are craved by the masses.  Their customer loyalty and devotion is like nothing we’ve ever seen in business before … myself included.  I have an iPhone, iPad and MacBook Air and love them all.  Within the last six months, I stopped using Windows and Blackberry completely.  I outwardly promote how great my experience with the company has been.  Even the AppleCare tech support is great … at a time when most companies call centers are a joke or non-existent.

But wait a minute, something doesn’t add up for me.

It’s the China worker thing.  Over recent years … as Apple’s bank account has increased … so have the charges about labor conditions in iPhone factories in China.  The New York Times, The Huffington Post and others are zeroing in on this at the moment.  My Mom used to say, “Where there is smoke, there is fire”.   We all know the media can be unreliable on these topics but they can be a pretty good watchdog too … just ask Rupert Murdoch and his staff.

In my mind, there are too many outrageous claims to ignore this any longer!

“Working excessive overtime without days off ” …. “Living together in crowded dorms” … “exposure to dangerous chemicals” … “Two explosions ‘due to aluminum dust’ killed four workers” … “Almost 140 injured after using toxin in factory,” … “Nets on buildings to prevent or deter stress related suicide attempts” … “falsification of records” … “worker suicides” … “beaten and interrogated by superiors over lost prototype”.

I want to know what is really going on.  Are workers really beaten or killing themselves so I can have an iPhone … or so Apple can have even more cash?  Neither is acceptable and both make me sick to my stomach.  This can’t be true, can it?  The more you read the harder you gulp.  It’s making me reach for the Pepto-Bismol.

Apple is certainly not a bad company.  They did donate $50 million to charity in 2011.  But considering how much is sitting in the corporate coffers at Apple it seems light to me.  I mean … they ARE loaded.  Apple donations represent a paltry .1% of their holdings and are a far cry from what others are doing.  Kroeger donates  almost 11% of profits to charity.  Even the allegedly “greedy” financial services firms are more charitable then Apple.  These firms seemed to get blamed for everything but you have to give them credit on this issue (no pun intended).  Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America are all among the top corporate givers.

But money is not my issue.  Taking responsibility for your actions is.

I am not an expert on this topic but Apple seems to have a reasonable policy on supplier responsibility.   However, I know from experience that having a good policy is not the same thing as enforcing a policy.  Some of the reports out there are claiming that Apple is not doing enough. In other words, looking the other way and pointing it back to the labor contractors.  Ahhhh … the beauty of outsourcing (if true).

It seems to me; that they hold all the cards and could fix this in about a nanosecond if they really wanted to.  This nonsense has been going on for at least six years and needs to stop.  Are the lower offshore labor costs worth all of this … loss of human life, inhumane conditions and reputation damage?

Apple is truly (and maybe uniquely) in a position to change how the world’s goods are made.  It has the money and the muscle to effect major change.  At the moment, it appears they lack the will, or conscious, to do anything serious about it.  I wonder if too much greed is driving behavior in Cupertino?  The numbers don’t lie.

Tim Cook should seize this opportunity and make this his issue.  Following Steve Jobs as CEO must be an incredibly hard thing to do.  I hope the new guy takes a stand and fixes this, before it is their undoing.  Nike and Wal-Mart both survived offshore labor scandals and so can Apple – but the time for decisive action is now.  Maybe it’s time these jobs come back home to the good ole USA.

I hope Apple grows a conscious soon. With new leadership in place, this should be easier to do.  Good luck Apple, I still love you but I won’t wait forever for you to fix this and I hate the taste of Pepto-Bismol.  Seriously, I wouldn’t normally blog about something like this but I felt the need to do something.

The Chinese government needs to man-up as well.  The economic growth in China is literally being fueled by blood, sweat and tears (not a joke) of their citizens.  I can only hope the conditions are not as extreme as being portrayed.

What about you … does it turn your stomach also?  Are you outraged?  You should be.

Blog update on February 13, 2011Apple issues statement about labor situation in China.  What do you think?  A strong enough response?

ECM Systems: Is Yours A Five Tool Player?

I grew up in Baltimore and baseball was my sport. I played Wiffle Ball in my backyard and Little League with my friends. It was all we ever talked and thought about. I played on all-star teams, destroyed my knees catching and worshipped the Orioles. And while I think Billy Beane’s use of analytics in “Moneyball” was absolute genius (read the book) … every good Orioles fan knows that starting pitching and three run homers wins baseball games … at least according to the Earl of Baltimore (sorry for the obscure Earl Weaver reference).

Brooks Robinson (Mr. Hoover) was my favorite player (only the greatest 3rd baseman of all time). I still have an autographed baseball he signed for me, as a kid, on prominent display in my office. I stood in line at the local Crown gas station for several hours with my Dad to get that ball.

But alas, baseball has fallen on hard times in Baltimore and even I had drifted away from the game. Good ole Brooksie was a fond nostalgic memory for me until the other day. This posting is not about baseball … it’s about ECM … really it is.

The recently concluded World Series is one of the most remarkable ever played. The late inning heroics in game six were amazing. Though neither team would give up, one had to prevail. Watching the end of that game got me thinking about ECM … no, really!

Baseball is a game that transfixes you when the ball is put into play … or in motion. And quite frankly, the game is pretty boring in between the action … or when things are at rest. So much so that the game is almost unwatchable unless things are in motion. The game comes alive with the tag-up on a sacrifice fly … or the stolen base … or a runner stretching a single into a double … or best of all, the inside-the-park homer. What do they all have in common? Action! Excitement! Motion!

No one care really cares what happens between the pitches. Everyone wants the action. That’s why you pay the ticket price … to sit on the edge of your seat and wait for ball to be put into play. The same is true for your enterprise content. It’s much more valuable when you put it into play … or in action. Letting your content sit idle is just driving up your costs (and risks too). Your goal should be to put it in motion. I recently wrote about this with Content at Rest or Content in Motion? Which is Better?.

However … putting your content in motion requires having the right tools. In baseball, the most coveted players are five tool players. They hit for average, hit for power, have base running skills (with speed), throwing ability, and fielding abilities.

The best ECM systems are also five tool players. They have five key capabilities. If you want the maximum value from your content, your ECM system must be able to:

1) Capture and manage content

2) Socialize content with communities of interest

3) Govern the lifecycle of content

4) Activate content through case centric processes

5) Analyze and understand content

I was lucky enough to have recently been interviewed by Wes Simonds who wrote a nice piece on these same five areas of value for ECM. These five tools are coveted, just like baseball. Why? Think about it … no one buys an ECM system unless they want to put their content in motion in one way or another.

Here’s the rub … far too often I see ECM practitioners who are only using one, or two, or maybe three, of their ECM capabilities even though they could be doing more. Why is this? It’s like being happy with being a .220 average hitter in baseball (or a one or two tool player). No one is getting a fat contract or going to the Hall of Fame by hitting .220 and just keeping your head above the Mendoza line (another obscure baseball reference). Like in baseball, you need to use all five skills to get to the big contracts … or get the maximum value from your ECM based information.

Brooks Robinson didn’t win a record 16 straight Gold Gloves, the Most Valuable Player Award or play in 18 consecutive All Star games because he had one or two skills. He was named to the All Century team and elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot with a landslide 92% of the votes because he put the ball in motion and made the most of the skills and tools he had.

It’s simple … those new to ECM should only consider systems with all five capabilities.

And today’s existing ECM practitioners should be promoting, using and benefiting from all five tools, not just a few. Putting content in motion with all five tools benefits your career and maximizes your ECM program. It enables your organization get the maximum value from the 80% of your data that is unstructured content.

As always, leave your thoughts and comments here.

Healthcare and ECM – What’s Next Doc? (part 2 of 2)

In my last blog posting Healthcare and ECM – What’s Up Doc?, I wrote about using ECM based content analytics technology to help accelerate decision making in an industry in transition.

But why stop there … how powerful would it be to turn those new insights (from unstructured information) into action by combining content analytics with predictive analytics or other business analytics?

This is transformational … by unlocking the 80% of information not currently being leveraged (explained in part 1) we unlock new ways to use information. More compellingly, we unlock never seen before trends and patterns in both clinical and operational data.

Think about it … do we know everything we need to know about healthcare and how to identify and treat diseases? Or can we benefit from new insights? The answer is obvious.

Combining content and predictive analytics enables:

  • Accurate extraction of medical facts and relationships from unstructured data in clinical and operational sources – not easy, cost effective, or even possible in the past.
  • Never seen before trends, patterns and anomalies are revealed – connections or relationships between diseases, patients and outcomes (and even costs) are now able to be surfaced and acted upon. Think of the medical research possibilities!
  • The ability to predict future outcomes based on past and present scenarios – optimizing resource allocation and patient outcomes. One organization reduced cardiac surgery patient morbidity from 2.9% to 1.3% by doing this.
  • New insights can be surfaced to any clinical or operational knowledge based on their respective role – this could be through dashboards, case management/care coordination system, EMR, claims processing or any number of other ways – enabling better decision making and action across the organization.
  • The ability to leverage these new insights with other systems such as data warehouses, master patient data – maximizing and befitting from the use of other systems.

In my last posting, I commented that it was now an imperative to leverage clinical information and operational data in new ways … and that are obvious things to do to improve quality of care, patient satisfaction and business efficiency.

There are at least nine areas where this opportunity exists. The clinical scenarios are:

  • Diagnostic Assistance: Highly correlated symptom to health/disease analysis issues visualized with predictive guidance on diagnosis to improve treatment and outcomes … with predicted or forecasted costs.
  • Clinical Treatment Effectiveness: Examine patient-specific factors against the effectiveness of a healthcare organizations specific treatment options and protocols … including comparisons to industry wide outcomes and best practices.
  • Critical Care Intervention: Early detection of unmanageable or high risk cases in the hospital that leads to interventions to reduce costs and maintain or improve clinical conditions … including case based interventions.
  • Research for Improved Disease Management: Perform analysis and predict outcomes by extracting discreet facts from text, such as: patient smoking status, patient diet and patient exercise regime to find new and better treatment options … use a mechanism for differentiation or to secure research grants.

Operational scenarios include:

  • Claims Management: All claims involve unstructured data and manually intensive analysis. Analyze claims information documented in cases, forms and web content to understand new trends and patterns to identify areas … perfect for process improvement, cost reduction and optimal service delivery.
  • Fraud Detection and Prevention: Uncover eligibility, false assertions and fraud patterns trapped in the unstructured data to reduce risk before payments are made … usually represented by a word or combination of words in text that can’t be detected with just structured data.
  • Voice of the Patient: Include unstructured data and sentiment analysis from surveys and web forms in analysis of patient and member satisfaction … this will be key as the industry moves to a value based model.
  • Prevention of Readmissions: Discover key indicators which are indicative of readmission to alert healthcare organizations to these so that protocols can be altered to avoid readmission … this is key as new Medicare payment penalties go into effect in 2012.
  • Patient Discharge and Follow-up Care: Understand and monitor patient behavior to proactively inform preventative and follow-up care coordinators before situations get worse.

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in five patients suffer from preventable readmissions. This represents $17.4 billion of the current $102.6 billion Medicare budget. Beginning in 2012, hospitals will be penalized for high readmission rates with reductions in Medicare discharge payments. Seton Healthcare Family is already ahead of the game.

“IBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare uses the same type of natural language processing as IBM Watson, enabling us to leverage our unstructured information in new ways not possible before,” said Charles J. Barnett, FACHE, President/Chief Executive Officer, Seton Healthcare Family. “With this solution, we can access an integrated view of relevant clinical and operational information to drive more informed decision making. For example, by predicting readmission candidates, we can reduce costly and preventable readmissions, decrease mortality rates, and ultimately improve the quality of life for our patients.”

This week at IOD … IBM is launching a new solution specifically designed to reveal clinical and operational insights in the high impact overlap between clinical and operational use cases – enabling low cost accountable care.

IBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare, a synergistic solution to IBM Watson, helps transform healthcare clinical and operational decision making for improved outcomes by uniquely applying multiple analytics services to derive and act on new insights in ways not previously possible … which is exactly what Seton Healthcare Family is doing.  Dr. David Ramirez, Medical Director at Seton shares his perspective here.

IBM Content and Predictive Analytics for Healthcare (ICPA) is Watson Ready and is designed to complement and leverage IBM Watson for Healthcare through the ability to analyze and visualize the past, understand the present, and predict future outcomes.

ICPA, as the first Watson Ready offering, not only provides assurance of Watson solution interoperability but extends the value ultimately delivered to clients. For example, using input from ICPA outcomes, IBM Watson will be able to provide better diagnostic recommendation and treatment protocols as well as learn from the confidence based responses.

The press release is available here for those seeking more information. I will be doing a high level main stage demo of ICPA on Wednesday which will be streamed live. I will post the replay when available.

But it’s not just healthcare … every industry is impacted by the explosion of information and has the same opportunity to leverage the 80+ percent that is unstructured to turn insights into action.

As always, leave me your thoughts and comments here.