Timely Data: A Must for Effective Stroke Program Management

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By Scott Bachik and Jan Yanko

In these tough economic times, it’s more important than ever to ensure our healthcare system is organized with exceptional leadership that understands how to run the business side of a service line, while keeping the clinical patient care perspective top of mind.  But, too often, we come across homegrown managers with excellent clinical skills who lack any formal management and/or business training.  Although some succeed, far more fail due to a gap in understanding that the programs they manage must be managed as a business.

Whether working to manage patient care, aspects of a clinical program, or a hospital’s operations, program leadership must have access to key data points that aid decision-making in real-time.  In the absence of timely data, how are we to make informed decisions?  The phrase “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” has relevance…  Although there is truth in thinking that some important aspects of “the business of healthcare” cannot be measured, it remains important to effectively measure what can be quantified in order to ensure efficient operations and appropriate allocation of resources.

How can a manager be expected to effectively improve practice, or a clinician be asked to enhance the care of a patient in the absence of good data?  For instance, consider how the lack of timely data impacts the management and care in a stroke program.

In many instances, the data available to those tasked to manage a stroke program is derived from processes that still utilize paper charts or notes written on pieces of paper towel or even scrubs.  Further, this data typically lands in systems that are homegrown, retrospective, or functioning in a stand-alone environment.  In the less likely instance that the systems are integrated with others in an acute care setting, they’re often the result of an attempt to fit metrics specific to stroke patient care into a larger system—not specifically designed for the effective management of the stroke patient and program.  These efforts to address the gaps in good and timely data availability are admirable, but do not suffice for the complex needs of the patients, nor the diverse needs of the program leadership.

Improving the quality of patient care should no doubt be a primary goal of every stroke program in the country.  Unfortunately, many of the processes that impact efforts in quality improvement are hampered by data collection processes conducted retrospectively or processes that rely on caregiver’s memories.  A look-back approach does not allow providers to actually use the data to make decisions about patient care, which could positively affect the course of future care and outcomes.  By the time aggregate data is collected, analyzed, and reported, weeks or months may have passed.  All the while, factors causing poor performance and outcomes may go unnoticed.  In addition, the ability to draw upon memory to determine the root cause of decision-making becomes nearly impossible when working retrospectively.

Real-time data collection and availability, as found in Cerebros, Corazon’s Stroke Patient Management Solution, can eliminate these obstacles, making the data collection processes more relevant to the staff, while allowing providers to make better informed decisions that affect care delivery for these acute patients.  The result:  great potential for increased patient satisfaction, improved outcomes, and decreases in length of stay and cost.  With current healthcare technologies constantly improving and new technologies continually in development, concurrent data collection is not only possible, but realistically achievable…and perhaps should be obligatory.

As we continue to feel the economic pressures within the business of healthcare, we cannot lose sight that quality must come first.  While hospitals are continually being asked to do more with less, leveraging the latest technologies to provide the needed data on a real-time basis will no doubt assist in the care delivery process.  It is time to change the majority of our focus and effort from collecting and reporting historical data, to using real-time data in the delivery of ’best practice.’  So as the saying goes, “those with the data win!”…but in Healthcare, when hospitals collect and measure the right data in real-time, the patient wins as well!

Scott Bachik is a Senior Vice President and Jan Yanko is a Consultant at Corazon, Inc., a national leader in strategic program development for the heart, vascular, neuro, and orthopedics specialties, offering consulting, recruitment, interim management, and physician practice & alignment services to healthcare organizations across the country and in Canada.  To learn more, visit www.corazoninc.com or call 412-364-8200.  To reach the authors, email sbachik@corazoninc.com or jyanko@corazoninc.com.