Prioritize data governance in a time of uncertainty

The U.S. healthcare system continues to face immense challenges as hospitals, healthcare systems and other healthcare providers face persistent margin pressures spurred by rising spending.

Many factors are compounding the problem, including continued supply chain disruptions, inflation, and nationwide labor shortages.

Healthcare leaders looking to overcome these challenges need access to solid data and analytics to inform decision-making. Yet many organizations lack the strong foundation of data governance needed to effectively leverage data as a strategic asset. Data governance in healthcare refers to how organizations manage the people, processes, and technologies involved in the collection and analysis of financial, clinical, and operational data.

Effective data governance requires organizations to adopt a leadership structure and best practices for data and analytics. They need to make sure they’re collecting the right data, delivering that data to the right users in an actionable way, and measuring the return on data and analytics investments.

One of the main challenges is that care teams are typically siled, which contributes to disparate data and analytics across various departments and service lines. Good data governance helps remove these barriers to connecting data and information across the organization. Data governance also helps health leaders across the organization understand what data is valuable, how to measure for apples-to-apples comparisons, and how to use the information to drive organizational change.

Examining a real-world example shows the vital role data plays in day-to-day planning and operations. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, labor shortages have impacted the financial health of hospitals, staff morale, and ultimately patient care. A recent McKinsey survey found that 29% of responding registered nurses (RNs) in the United States indicated that they were likely to leave their current role in direct patient care, with many respondents noting their intention to leave the workforce altogether .

Amid the COVID-19 Omicron outbreak in January and February, many hospitals have turned to contract and traveling nurses to fill staffing gaps. The strategy came at a high financial cost — the median hourly rate paid to recruiting firms for contract RNs jumped to a peak of 170% above the median hourly rate paid to employed RNs in January 2022, according to a American Hospital Association and Syntellis Performance Solutions report comparing data from over 1,000 hospitals and health systems.

In recent months, pay disparities for contracts versus employed RNs leveled less than 15%, but hospitals across the country continue to feel the impact of high staffing costs. In May, hospitals and health systems nationwide reported a fifth consecutive month of declining margins due to continued labor issues and other rising expenses, according to the June report. Syntellis Performance Trends report.

To manage these challenges, healthcare leaders must accurately assess their spending and identify variances, such as those encountered during soaring RN contract costs. However, making these comparisons and assessing broader impacts is impossible without effective data governance to ensure consistent data processes across the organization.

Too few healthcare leaders have the right tools to meaningfully collect and analyze data from across their organization. Take the example of contract RN pay rates: leaders must first ensure that these rates are recorded consistently across departments, then analyze the data and share it with nursing managers who can implement strategies to address high costs, such as greater flexibility in staffing levels with patient demand and making efforts to retain employed RNs.

Manual processes for these tasks are too cumbersome for an already overburdened workforce; Healthcare organizations need technology that makes standardizing, analyzing, and sharing data results quick and easy for employees. Syntellis intelligent planning and performance solutions Empower healthcare managers with tools that securely integrate data across the organization, minimizing the need for manual data entry or data reconciliation. Syntellis’ suite of solutions also makes it easy to compare an organization’s metrics with peer organizations in near real-time and report those results to stakeholders, who can then identify and act on opportunities for improvement.

Effective data governance and the ability to connect disparate data enable healthcare leaders to improve the overall financial and clinical performance of their organizations. With the right tools, hospitals and healthcare systems can better prepare for ongoing challenges and continue to serve their communities with excellence.

Steve Wasson, Executive Vice President and General Manager of Data and Intelligence Solutions, Syntellis Performance Solutions