Using Data to Drive Practice Success

I have had the privilege of traveling across the country meeting and speaking with colleagues, and in doing so, I’ve seen a wide variety of pediatric practices. There are a lot of pediatricians who are still under the impression that all they have to do is see patients and practice good medicine and the business will take care of itself. That may have been true 15 or even 10 years ago, but it is no longer true today. The practices that are thriving are the practices that are using data to drive innovation and improvement.

I know that last statement made some people’s eyes glaze over, but I encourage you to take a deep breath and consider this further. Just like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there is a similar pyramid regarding data:

You can’t even think about reaching the top of the pyramid and have wisdom about your practice without understanding that the foundation is built on symbols, facts, and measurements that we call data. If you aren’t already running reports to understand the business of your practice, or understand the details of who your patients are (by age mix, payer mix, demographic mix, condition/diagnosis) you need to start yesterday. Not sure how to do it? Commit to a journey of learning and discovery and work on this project for the next 6-12 months.

Facts and measurements, however, are not enough. You need to have a deep understanding of the numbers to contemplate what they mean and what you can do with that information. For example, if you decide to improve your well visit rates (you’ve already seen me write about the crucial importance of this to your success), you need to understand why the rates are the way they are currently. Is it because you don’t really know who your patients are? Is there lack of understanding about how to do recalls? Does anybody own this process in your office? Do you have adequate room in your schedule to add more well visits? Processing the data to get information on why you are where you are, and what those benchmark numbers mean, is key to advancing to the next step in the pyramid.

Processing the information and creating a deep knowledge of what the data and information can do for your practice, and how you operationalize that work, is the real mark of successful pediatric practice. How are you going to apply what you have learned to continue to improve? You might assign a staffer a half day per week to run recalls. You may decide to completely remake well visit appointment schedules because the majority of your patients want to come in between 7-9 AM and 3-5 PM (which you can’t know unless you ask and collect data.) You might decide the viability of your practices is in jeopardy because you don’t have enough infants coming to your practice, so you embark on a marketing campaign.

Few practices have ultimate wisdom about all aspects of their practice, which is why the “continuous” in continuous quality improvement is so important. You may know why you are the top performing quality practice for a payer in your region, and you can use that wisdom to leverage a new contract based on value instead of fee for service, but do you also have the wisdom to know what that shift would do to the cash flow and overall bottom line of your business? Do you have wisdom about what is driving employers and patients to different insurance plans in your region? There is always more to learn and more work to do, but remember, if you want to thrive in the ever-changing world that is our current healthcare climate, you must start by harnessing the data, so you can move toward wisdom. And when you get there, please share your success and wisdom with your colleagues. Every patient deserves a great medical home, and every pediatric practice deserves the support from a collective community. We are indeed, better together.

Sue Kressly

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