Vice President of Finance and Analytics: It’s a job title not often seen in healthcare. In fact, most organizations keep the two departments separate, which for many years has made sense. Now, however, as the industry inches closer to value-based care world — and data integration becomes a key priority — it’s more important than ever to marry the two worlds.
It’s precisely why Jenny Carney’s first objective was to establish a performance, analytics, and medical economics team that was tasked with bringing together the mountains of data housed across Beth Israel Deaconess Care Organization and turn it into actionable information for providers. In this interview, Carney talks about the “multi-year journey to integrate clinical data” across BIDCO, what she believes are the keys to success with accountable care, how scorecards can be leveraged to build buy-in among providers, and the importance of creating and maintaining strong vendor relationships. She also shares her thoughts on the evolving role of the data analyst, the role of communication in achieving positive outcomes, and the “tremendous” opportunity that exists for young women.
- Keys to success w/ ACOs
- “We’re able to get our arms around all of that information so we have a full view of the patient.”
- Using scorecards and dashboards to gain buy-in
- Leveraging vendor relationships to fill gaps – “We want someone we can partner with and grow with.”
- Combining finance and analytics – “They go hand-in-hand.”
- Evolving role of data analysts: “We’re seeing a shift in the skill set.”
- The “tremendous opportunity” for women in data analytics
This is an area where we would benefit from a relationship with a vendor, because it’s not one of the core functions of BIDCO to create a data warehouse to manage all of the technology around predictive modeling and artificial intelligence.
As we work toward the triple aim of achieving outcomes for our patients and our providers, while at the same time reducing the cost of care and finding efficiencies, finance and analytics go hand in hand in terms of understanding the data but also identifying opportunities that are going to drive performance.
Because we’ve made further advances with technology and population health tools, we’re able to let the vendor — and the tool — do a lot of that heavy technical lifting, and look for individuals who are more analytical and are able to understand the complexities of the data science.
By removing some of those technical skills as the number one requirement for the role, there’s an opportunity to look for different qualities when filling these positions. For example, someone who’s an analytical thinker, or has strong leadership or communication skills.
Gamble: When it comes to ACOs, some organizations are really far down that path, while others are in the planning phase. What do you believe are the keys to success in this area?
Carney: That’s a good question. We talked earlier about the data integration piece. With our accountable care organization, BIDCO is in a unique position where we hold all data. If we can get that data integration, that’s a crucial first step in being successful. Health plans may have data for their own patients, but with an accountable care organization, we have data from all of the health plans for all of our patients and every touchpoint. Whether it’s in our network or outside, we’re able to get our arms around all of that information; we have a full view of patients where we’re able to marry the clinical data and the claims data together.
That’s critical. And it’s not always easy, depending on the makeup of your network and how complex it is, but I really think it’s a crucial first step. Closely following making sure communication is flowing smoothly, and that you’re getting buy-in from physicians. One way to do that is with a solid analytics team that’s able to communicate the value from the data, and also set up the measurement and tracking to be able to monitor progress and look for trends.
It’s important to do that in a focused way so that you’re providing scorecards and dashboards to help identify key areas they need to tackle to achieve success. There are other score cards that can monitor progress on a higher-level, and measure how you’re performing against quality metrics.
But I think successful accountable care starts with those three steps: data integration, building channels of communication and building trust in the data and the message coming out of the data, and then following that with measurement, scorecards, dashboards, and analytics that can close the loop and measure performance over time.
Gamble: Can you talk about the development work BIDCO has done with Arcadia to develop a population heath solution?
Carney: Sure. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to sign with Arcadia and work closely with them to integrate our data into their platform, and also do some co-development around what BIDMO is looking for, and how to build that platform. As we’ve implemented the tool, we’ve done a tremendous amount of work to build out the medical economics side.
We’re also doing work on the clinical side, both in looking at social determinants of health and on improving workflow. That was an area we focused on with Arcadia to build to our specifications. We’re doing the same with the medical economics and the data reporting side.
Gamble: I imagine a key component of this is having a good relationship with vendors and making sure everyone is on the same page.
Carney: Absolutely. Having strong relationships is something we really value, particularly with our population health vendor. When I first started with BIDCO, we had some big discussions around building a data warehouse. Were we going to do that internally? What would that look like? Did we need a new population health tool vendor? We came to the conclusion that this is an area where we would benefit from a relationship with a vendor, because it’s not one of the core functions of BIDCO to create a data warehouse to manage all of the technology around predictive modeling and artificial intelligence. Data mining is not a core function of our ACO.
It’s very key, however. And so we need to bring in experts in that area and find a vendor we can partner with and grow with. We need a vendor that will take our input and enable us to build out as our needs change. Because we’re continuously changing, even in terms of our risk arrangements. As I mentioned before, we recently signed with the MassHealth Medicaid ACO. That’s a whole new area for us that comes with new needs. But we don’t have that type of population health expertise in-house, and so it’s critical to find a true partner and maintain a strong relationship. We value that very much, which is one of the reasons we signed up with Arcadia.
Gamble: Right. One thing we touched on before but I’d like to discuss more is the marriage of finance and analytics, which is evident in your role. We’re seeing a real evolution where these two areas are much more closely connected than in the past. Is this an offshoot of the shift toward value-based care?
Carney: I do think there’s a connection. I believe it’s been there since value-based care came into play, and I think it’s strengthening as time goes on and we continue to shift toward that model. There’s a lot of complexity into achieving success in with value-based care. As we work toward the triple aim — or really, the quadruple aim — of achieving outcomes for our patients and our providers, while at the same time reducing the cost of care and finding efficiencies, finance and analytics go hand in hand in terms of understanding the data but also identifying opportunities that are going to drive performance. That allows us to work closely with the clinical teams and clinical leadership to understand which programs are going to have the impact we’re looking for, both from a financial and patient care standpoint. Our first goal is always to improve patient care and quality, but we also have to look at how we can reduce the total cost of care.
Gamble: One thing that can’t be overlooked is the role of the data analyst, which is becoming increasingly important. As healthcare organizations invest more in developing high performance analytics teams, what are the skill sets they should be looking for?
Carney: That’s an interesting question. It has definitely changed over the time that I’ve been involved in analytics. As with other healthcare roles, we’re seeing a shift in what the skillset should look like. There are gaps in terms of skillet, and it makes it difficult to fill the position of healthcare data analyst — or medical economic analyst, as we call it. They’re difficult hires to make and the pool of applicants is not always as robust as we’d like it to be.
One reason is that there are two sides to the role. One is very technical; it’s being able to pull datasets or do the predictive modeling that’s required to get your arms around the data. And then there’s the business side; it’s the professional understanding of knowing the big picture, knowing how the contracts work, and knowing all the quality measures and which ones carry the most impact. It’s being able to bring all of that business knowledge to the technical side and marry those two together to produce the analytics that are needed.
It’s like a unicorn. We’re trying to find that ideal fit for this role that’s both technical and professional, and it’s very difficult. When I first started, I would often err on the side of hiring based for technical skills, because what we needed, first and foremost, was someone who could write SQL code. Oftentimes, we would sacrifice the business knowledge side and professional skills in order to get that technology knowhow.
Fortunately, times have changed. Because we’ve made further advances with technology and population health tools, we’re able to let the vendor — and the tool — do a lot of that heavy technical lifting, and look for individuals who are more analytical and are able to understand the complexities of the data science related to healthcare, and particularly, to value-based care. We want individuals who have a solid understanding of how each of our contracts work, what are the quality measures, what are the complexities of our incentive models, and what all of that means. And so we’re really looking for that professional person who’s going to be able to do that.
In terms of skillset, we’re looking for people with strong communication and leadership skills. We want people who can read into the data to find opportunities, but also to be able to communicate that to providers, to the office staff, and to the hospitals, and present the data in a way that’s going to be accepted and acted upon. Those communication and analytic skills are where we focus now, and the SQL skills have become secondary now that we have population health tools doing a lot of the heavy lifting.
Gamble: That’s an interesting evolution that the role has seen, in a relatively short period of time.
Carney: It is, and it was definitely needed. Even within BIDCO, we have data integration analysts and data scientists who are more technically skilled. They’re focused on data integration and how to best utilize our population health tool and make sure the data is maintained, updated, and integrated into the tool. That’s really where the technical skills lie. There’s a little bit of a separation we can put into play now with analysts who have to know how to utilize that tool.
And that’s not to say we don’t do SQL programming — we still do. But there’s less focus on that and more on being able to do that heavy analysis, and being able to support our population health team and our chief medical officer as they look for in-depth insight into the data, and what value we can pull from it so that we can make an impact. We’re really moving away from just reporting and more toward data-driven analytics that’s going to inform decision-making.
Gamble: Right. It’s interesting; when you look at cybersecurity, the skillsets are evolving, and we’re seeing organizations reach out to a broader population to fill those needs. Do you think we’ll see the same thing with data analytics as far as trying to appeal to a wider audience, including young women?
Carney: Absolutely. I think that by removing some of those technical skills as the number one requirement for the role, there’s an opportunity to look for different qualities when filling these positions. For example, someone who’s an analytical thinker, or has strong leadership or communication skills — I believe there’s an opportunity for those who are earlier in their careers to be able to come into this role, even if they lack experience in SQL programming. They have the skills that will enable them to grow and absorb all of the business knowledge of the healthcare organization and the accountable care organization and help fit together all those pieces of the puzzle.
I also think there are tremendous opportunities for women to fill these roles. A lot of the skills we talked about are inherent in women — the ability to communicate and to lead. Healthcare analytics is a growing field, and we need to encourage more individuals to seek out these positions and help fill in the gaps.
Gamble: Definitely. Well, I want to thank you so much for your time. You offered a unique perspective, and gave us a lot to think about.
Carney: Thank you so much, Kate. I appreciate it.