It was the best of times; it was the worst of times…

Not a day goes by that my Twitter, LinkedIn or email is not populated by stories extolling the excitement and potential of technology and data to transform health and health care. If you believed the hype in my newsfeeds, you’d think that data was the secret health services researchers, policymakers, health care providers and patients have sought for decades. It’s very exciting. But it’s also only part of the story.

AcademyHealth and our members have long understood the power of data and evidence to inform and drive change. Survey data, claims data, readmissions data – data are the artifacts of care delivered and population health needs, and they allow us to assess, analyze, model and predict how different policies and procedures might improve cost, quality, access and equity. That’s not new.

What is evolving -- and what my social streams too often fail to capture -- is that turning data into knowledge and action requires more than artificial intelligence and massive processing capacity. It takes persistence, smart policy, properly aligned incentives and – perhaps most importantly – culture change.

Wresting change from technology and data requires hard work, failures, adaptations, and lessons learned by real leaders tackling gnarly technology and culture issues as they strive to improve patient experiences, health care quality, and clinician burnout, or weed out low value care and lower costs. This is why I am so looking forward to spending two days learning from some of the best at our inaugural Health Data Policy and Strategy Orientation. This new program is going to be a rich conversation adding to AcademyHealth’s portfolio of programs to support using data, research and analysis to improve health care delivery.

So where are we today? Collectively, we have survived the catalytic implementation of electronic health records, which are providing the ‘ledger’ of health care – in supporting accounting, regulatory requirements, performance management, continued learning and the logistics of care delivery. 

At the same time, a dizzying array of other technology solutions are turning “every breath we take, every move we make” into a data point - whether it is the Apple ikit, wearables, patient apps, sensors around us in the IoT, genomic data, social determinants of health data… the list goes on. Let’s face it – we’re wired and connected 24/7 in some fashion – our lives are being datafied!  These swelling waves of data are being crunched by new analytic methods which are making it feasible to do near real time analytics, an essential feature for their utility and relevance in the clinical encounter, the C-suite and policymaking.

So how are healthcare systems responding? Are they strategically using their data to respond to multiple internal and external demands, including payments linked to performance and value? How is policy changing to support this dynamic ecosystem? The answer, like so many other domains in healthcare, is “it depends.” Some health systems’ C-suites have a blue print for leveraging all their data. Some may have contracts for tools, reports, and consulting services, but these are fragmented across many service lines and business unites. Too often health systems are not being strategic enough about data generation, management, and use at the enterprise level. Another system response has been the proliferation of new C-suite roles – e.g. patient safety officer, data officer, patient engagement officer, innovation officer, patient experience officer, on and on…..  What do they all have in common? They all need data and are often competing amongst themselves for a health system’s capacity for innovation, adaptation and scale.

These are just some of the topics that we will be discussing this week at the Health Data Policy and Strategy Orientation. This workshop is designed by AcademyHealth to accelerate our collective knowledge and competencies on deploying data strategies to drive health care delivery improvement and understanding the interdependencies between data generators, users and policy. I see the broad and diverse AcademyHealth community having a major role to play in the interpretation and use of data across many facets of healthcare delivery and policy. Our members help make sense of data, detecting the real signal in the noises, culling the insights needed to drive decision making, whether at the bedside, for system re-design and resource deployment, or policy change.

As I often say, data is the lifeblood of research. It is now also coursing through every facet of health care systems and can help us visualize and understand the gaps and inefficiencies in care, develop effective interventions, and take these to scale through rapid cycle deployment, measurement, adaptation, and dissemination. The tools of health services research, data and delivery science should be in the hands of every health system leader!

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