Analytics or BI? Centralized or federated data? Geisinger’s CDO shares insights

Healthcare jargon is filled with terms that are often used interchangeably but have different meanings: electronic medical records and electronic health records, for instance; or public health and population health. Another such pair? Business intelligence and analytics.

They’re similar, but not the same. Nonetheless, the two “absolutely have to exist in parallel,” says Geisinger Health System Chief Data Officer Nicholas Marko, MD.

“People like to say, ‘Advanced analytics, that sounds really cool, really high-power,'” says Marko. “But the fact of the matter is, most clinical care decisions, most business decisions, most operational decisions, are driven by much more basic analyses – reporting of numbers on a consistent basis, display of data in dashboards.”

At Geisinger – a longtime analytics leader that’s been able to recognize big gains in quality and efficiency from its targeted number-crunching – “most of the business processes that we inform with data are really BI-centric,” he says. “Reporting and dashboarding are the workhorses of what we do: 80 percent of the problems are perfectly suited-to and very well-addressed by those tools.”

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So at the Danville, Pennsylvania-based health system, “we always need to maintain a strong, consistent and robust BI environment,” says Marko. “It’s a must.” 

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But advanced analytics is the exciting technology upon which Geisinger has built its reputation for quality – to the point where it’s able to offer money-back guarantees to dissatisfied patients.

Those initiatives go “two or three steps beyond dashboarding – which is just presenting and summarizing data – to a place where we’re actually using that data to drive computations that we use to then inform more complex decisions: predictive analytics, decision modeling, these sorts of things.”

Any provider organization hoping to make the most of its data should keep both BI and analytics programs in top shape.

“It’s important, if you’re going to be on the leading edge, to have systems in place that can deal with those kind of complex things,” says Marko, speaking of advanced analytics. “But common things are common, and most business runs on BI. We’ve got lots of BI, we focus on it, we nurture it right along with the more advanced stuff. In fact we probably dedicate more resources to the BI than to the advanced analytics because there’s more demand.”

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Another this-or-that question many data strategies need to answer has to do with centralization versus federation.

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