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Building a Data-driven Approach to Population Health

January 24, 2019

Meredith Agen, M.B.A.
Associate Vice President, Health Care Analytics
Qualis Health and HealthInsight

I’ve always been a numbers person. Dyslexia, which I was diagnosed with at age six, made reading and writing challenging. Math came naturally to me — I was drawn to its clear-cut rules and logic.

I wanted to study math at a higher level, but I wasn’t quite sure where that would lead me. When I was in college, my mom was diagnosed with cancer. Experiencing her journey and watching her whole care team strive tirelessly put me on my path to working in health care. I knew I wanted to be a part of preventing negative outcomes and identifying insights that could make a difference in people’s lives. And I knew working with data and numbers would be the perfect fit for me.

After landing in my role at Qualis Health and HealthInsight, I saw that we needed to adopt a more data-driven approach to population health. We routinely heard from hospitals and clinics that felt they had complex patients with advanced needs. But there was no data to support their belief.

We needed data that could reinforce their observations and help them address the issue. For example, with the right data, we could demonstrate that patients in a particular region had certain behavioral health conditions that were causing them to visit the emergency department.

Building our data-driven approach was a significant investment These are some of the highlights of our journey:

  • Began with a clear set of prioritized use cases and defined goals.
  • Identified roles, responsibilities and handoff expectations.
  • Started small. Utilized the use cases and goals to map out the data flow.
  • Leveraged the data layers and maintained the raw data to harvest new content.
  • Took the time to iterate and test during this transformation process.
  • Focused on version control in order to maintain our code and be able to review past versions.

The rewards have been well worth the hard work. Our focus on data has led to some unique findings. When we took a close look at specific measures in specific regions — for example, breast cancer screenings in Washington — we saw that some areas performed better than others.

These types of data-driven discoveries are critical to reducing readmission rates, length of stay in hospitals, and adverse drug events. Drilling down to an individual’s location, age, gender, language and race offers important insights that can be used to create effective interventions that are highly targeted and yield better results.

Using data helps health care professionals gain a deeper understanding of patients and leads to more powerful interventions. I’m grateful to be a part of this data-driven effort and inspired by the difference it’s making in the lives of people all across the country.

About the Author

Meredith Agen is the Associate Vice President of Health Care Analytics. She leads a team of over 20 analysts, and her innovative approach to data is gaining national attention.