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HealthSouth's data revolution

January 19, 2016
by David Raths
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Some larger providers have been working for years to create the data warehouse infrastructure to allow them to do more sophisticated analytics. Few long-term care providers have embraced the technology more than HealthSouth, the nation’s largest inpatient rehabilitation provider.

Because of its size, Birmingham, Ala.-based HealthSouth has more technology resources than most post-acute care providers. It operates 120 inpatient rehabilitation hospitals and more than 200 home health agencies. Yet its analytics team led by Darren Freeman, director of business intelligence (BI), is comprised of only six people and much of its infrastructure has been built in-house.

The homegrown enterprise data warehouse at HealthSouth dates back to 2003, although it took a few years before it started delivering results. “We flew under the radar and spent several years expanding the enterprise data warehouse without a lot of user-facing elements,” Freeman explained. “During that time, we were slowly integrating all the core systems inside HealthSouth. Our first BI applications involved revenue cycle analytics. Then in 2009 we built an application for labor productivity and data visualization product called QlikView.” The whole BI platform has been nicknamed Beacon internally.

Mary Ellen DeBardeleben, associate director of quality for HealthSouth, finds it difficult to overstate the impact the analytics platform has had on the way HealthSouth does business. “Beacon has revolutionized the way we analyze data,” she says. “We don’t use spreadsheets anymore. The senior leadership teams spend a lot of time analyzing data in a meaningful and user-friendly way. The CEOs can go through nursing, therapy, business modules, human resources—every aspect of our company is fed through this almost-real-time business analytics system.”

HealthSouth is in the process of rolling out an electronic health record (EHR) system from Cerner Corp. across its hospitals. The enterprise rollout started in 2012 and includes 20 to 25 implementations a year, says Dayle Unger, vice president of clinical transformation. “The amount of clinical data available for analytics has grown significantly,” she says. “Of course, one of the pitfalls, too, is the amount of data. It can be complex and challenging to work with. So Darren and others on the reporting side of things are helping us, but it starts with the foundation of our national clinical leaders and others determining what are the right data to pull and report on. From the quality reporting perspective, the switch to the EHR is huge because it is more efficient and can be more accurate than a manual paper system.”

HealthSouth’s customer relationship management, patient accounting system, human resources, payroll and financial, intranet and supply chain are already integrated and running in the data warehouse. Freeman says the last big system to add is the clinical information system. “We have been working on integrating that for the last 18 months and we are just now starting to build our first BI solution that integrates clinical and nonclinical information. It is incredibly exciting stuff. One of the byproducts of the analytics environment here is that it has helped us identify best practices.”

DeBardeleben says HealthSouth is now able to take the data gathered for accurate and compliant reporting to avoid financial penalties and use it to improve the quality of care for patients. The next step is combining multiple elements across different settings. “For instance, we have nursing-specific Beacon applications that pull in data from human resource systems, quality systems and risk management solutions. A chief nursing officer at a HealthSouth hospital can look at every important metric from those systems in one place. You can look at it for today, or the last week, or trend it over time, and compare yourself to 19 other rehabilitation hospitals.”

Philadelphia-based David Raths is senior contributing editor for Long-Term Living's sister-brand, Healthcare Informatics.