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Highlights | Solving problems with data

  • UW Medicine’s Information Technology Services department developed targeted dashboards for departments and service lines across the system.
  • These dashboards are providing leaders and clinicians insight to identify and fix some of their most challenging problems.
  • From predicting surgery times to estimating patient length of stay, data allows us to be more focused and intentional in improving processes that ultimately benefit patients.

When Mission Forward began, departments and teams across UW Medicine were asked to find solutions to some vexing challenges. Whether it was how to predict how long a surgery would take more accurately, how to move patients through the emergency room more efficiently, or even how to bill insurers faster, these processes had so many moving pieces that it was difficult to know where to focus efforts.

Decision-makers needed accessible, insightful and intuitive data, and the IT Department was there to help. However, with UW Medical Center – Montlake, UW Medical Center – Northwest, and Harborview Medical Center each using a different way to measure their processes, finding a data solution that worked for everyone was its own challenge.

“Mission Forward brought department leaders and teams together to agree on one set of metrics that they’d use to evaluate progress,” says Sarah Miller, chief applications systems officer. “Once we had that, we were off to the races.”

Now, UW Medicine’s Information Technology Services department has developed targeted dashboards for departments and service lines across the system, giving leaders and clinicians insight to identify and fix some of their trickiest problems.

“Take Length of Stay, for instance. You could be looking at the big picture — aggregated data from across the hospital — and maybe you notice an anomaly. You have a hunch, but you don’t know exactly why it’s happening. With these dashboards, you can drill down and see the same data on a clinic level or a patient-by-patient level,” says Todd Burstain, MD, chief clinical informatics officer. “You can find answers to your questions.”

How teams are using the data

Teams across UW Medicine are now using these data to identify trends and find solutions for problems they may not have been able to pinpoint in the past. For example, Harborview’s Perioperative Services used these data to uncover a consistent source of surgery delays: last-minute bathroom breaks. So, now perioperative teams bring patients to the bathroom five minutes before they’re wheeled into surgery.

“It makes all the difference. If I come to you and say, ‘You’re not doing good enough,’ that’s not helpful,” says Mark Taylor, senior associate administrator for Harborview. If I come to you and say, ‘This specific thing is going wrong, how can we fix it?’ That’s incredibly helpful. It allows us to focus.”
Bret Nelson, IT portfolio manager, agrees.

“These dashboards are putting data in the hands of the people that can take action and make improvements,” says Nelson.

And these actions are being taken in practical ways that improve workflow.

“Surgeons can now see an average of how long it takes to complete any procedure, such as a spinal fusion, at any of our facilities,” says Peter Tarczy-Hornoch, chief data officer. “Alongside their own estimates, they can use that to better plan schedules and ultimately see more patients.”

Similarly, care teams can better predict a patient’s length of stay in the hospital by examining the average recovery times for similar procedures.

“Our department exists to deliver value to the rest of the healthcare system. We don’t provide patient care, but we provide the technology that allows it to happen,” says Eric Neil, chief information officer.

Beyond building dashboards, IT Services has worked to improve digital workflows in multiple departments — including Revenue Cycle, where they’ve streamlined the insurance billing process.

“Mission Forward was this catalyst that created a tighter partnership between all of us,” Neil says. “And it’s helping us deliver more value for the organization than ever before.”