Co-authored by Ben Resner and Brandon Azoulai.

Hospitals have historically been focused on providing an environment where doctors and nurses can provide excellent care for patients. In more recent years, pharmacists, physical therapists, dieticians, and many other allied health professions have been added to the core patient care team. However, IT professionals have traditionally been excluded from this team.

This needs to change. IT represents much more than keeping the printers working and making sure doctors can VPN into the EHR from their home computer. Unless IT teams have an understanding of hospital operations, the depth of data created by a hospital or health system can’t be leveraged to optimally promote best clinical practices. To accomplish this, IT should no longer be sequestered to off-site locations and basement bunkers. Instead, they need to spend some of their time embedded in the clinical areas to help create a bidirectional flow of knowledge transfer.

Data is the language of the hospital. And language defines culture and how we see the world. It’s often said that Eskimos have 11 different words for snow. Given how important snow is to northern indigenous peoples, it makes sense their language reflects more nuance about snow than the language of an equatorial population. Language is not simply an overlay that provides different paths to the same destination — it influences the destination. If Eskimos only had one word for snow, they would be unable to succinctly articulate their environment in both written and spoken communication.

In a hospital, IT manages this “data language.” The workflows defined by the user interfaces outlined best practices for a hospital or department. Medication reconciliation is a great example of this — what would compliance be like if it wasn’t mandated by the EHR? This is a case where the data language mandates a workflow. And when IT implements this feature, it’s in the clinical users’ best interest for IT to have as deep an understanding of this process as possible.

When Hospital IQ implements our solution at customer sites, we start by gathering at least one year of historical data. But to really understand this data, we need to understand hospital culture. Even the most literal piece of data, like “Surgical patient wheels in time,” contains nuance and often requires some explanation.

Despite the fact that “wheels in” conjures unambiguous imagery of a patient on a gurney passing through the threshold of an operating theatre, there is still room for confusion. For example, if “wheels in time” refers to a patient moved into pre-op but not the actual OR, we can then understand that two patients can concurrently occupy a single OR.

A cynic might just dismiss this detailed level of hospital data as useless. But that would be a failure to understand the culture of how a hospital operates.

The smoothest integrations happen when the IT staff at a client hospital understand the workflows and give us these insights. These staff often combine clinical backgrounds with IT skills. They’re not simply moving data packets from one database to another; they understand how the data is used.

The challenge Hospital IQ faces when onboarding new hospitals is translating this hospital-specific language to the lingua franca of our normalized database scheme that our product development and engineering teams use to create a common experience for all clients. IT leadership who understands this process is not only beneficial to us, but to all hospital operations that involve encoding workflow into data.

FedEx lists seven key executives on its corporate website. One of them is titled “Executive Vice President, FedEx Information Services, and CIO.” United Airlines, Bank of America, and Marriott International all have similarly positioned data-focused executives who understand how data operations impacts workplace culture. Hospital systems, on the other hand, rarely have IT-focused executives on the first page of their leadership teams. But this is something that will eventually change over time as hospitals put increased value on the power of data to drive smart decision-making.

Prioritizing IT leaders who can understand and harmonize data workflows and day-to-day hospital operations will ultimately save their hospital organizations time and money by ensuring the operations and IT sides of the business are aligned in the mission of promoting smoother operational efficiency and better patient care.

 

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