When Patrick McGill, MD, became involved in the Epic optimization initiative at Community Health Network, it was, admittedly, for “selfish” reasons. “I wanted to make Epic more efficient for me to maintain the practice I had,” said McGill, who already had a full plate as a family physician. “I wanted to have a seat at the table to make sure we didn’t lose what we had, and it just blossomed from there.”
Despite lacking a background in computer science or informatics, he was named Chief Analytics Officer in 2018, and has relished his time in the role. Recently, McGill spoke with healthsystemCIO about his core objectives to become a data-driven organization, maintain a solid data governance strategy, and leverage analytics to address social determinants of health.
He also talks about why CHN restructured to separate analytics from IT; how they’re partnering with community organizations and competing health systems to more effectively address social determinants; understand why gaps exist and identify strategies to address them; why having a well-rounded team with diverse backgrounds is critical; and how he’s leveraging analytic snapshots to tie his team’s work to the overall mission of the organization.
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- One of the key components of a data governance strategy is to establish consistent definitions, which can help ensure “consistency in reporting across different business units.”
- CHN created a Center of Excellence to serve as a “guiding light for analytics across the organization,” and develop capabilities for predictive modeling and machine learning.
- As CAO, McGill’s ultimate goal is to ensure analytics partners with business, clinical, and other departments to solve problems, rather than just being “the department that receives requests.”
- McGill’s most important advice for young physicians or executives? “Never close a door that opens for you, because you never know what it’s going to bring.”
- Building a “well-rounded team with diverse thinking, diverse backgrounds, and diverse personalities can make the whole team stronger,” especially when it comes to initiatives like digital transformation.
Q&A with Patrick McGill, MD, Part 2 [Click here to view Part 1]
Gamble: Can you talk a little bit about the data governance model you have in place? There are so many different layers to it — how would you describe your strategy?
McGill: That’s a great question. I know data governance means a lot of different things to different people. As an organization, I would say we’re probably closer to the infancy with data governance. Before I took on my role, this was not something we focused on or worked on at all as an organization. And so, once we got our feet underneath us and built some foundational, we’ve tried to start to focus on data governance.
Honestly, it starts with establishing consistent definitions across the organization around what a patient is. We have several different definitions for what is a patient and what is an encounter, and so we’ve come up with some basic data definitions so that we have consistency in reporting across different business units.
That’s where we started. We’ve also done some work on data quality and making sure we’re using good data in our reports and dashboards. We’ve taken a multi-disciplinary approach with data governance; there are business stakeholders involved in some of these questions and answers.
But we still have a long way to go. Data governance is one of those areas that’s absolutely necessary as an organization matures analytically. It’s a lot of elbow grease and a lot of hard work, and when there are competing priorities, sometimes that work gets pushed to the side. And so we have tried, especially in the last six months or so, to be diligent about getting that data governance work off the ground and starting to hard-wire it.
Gamble: Earlier you mentioned the Center of Excellence. What does that entail?
McGill: The Analytics Center of Excellence is our collection of centrally managed analysts. It includes our Epic reporting analysts, our data warehouse reporting analysts, and some of our database administrators (DBAs). They’re charged with being our guiding light for analytics across the organization. As part of that, they’re developing some advanced analytic capabilities when it comes to predictive models and machine learning. Obviously they manage the technology as well. We have deployed analysts in the business units that aren’t connected to the Center of Excellence, but really it was set up to really be the standard for the organization when it comes to data and analytics.
Gamble: I imagine there were priorities that were shifted around last year. Are there initiatives you’re hoping to get more into this year?
McGill: This year, we’re really focused on race and social equity measures. The analytics we’re looking at are focused on developing out more efficiencies when it comes to recording. So a lot of automation there;
Probably the third technical focus we have is around our data warehouse. We’ve already moved it to the cloud, and now we’re really trying to build out more advanced capabilities with predictive models and some additional advanced analytics for the organization.
We’re also doing a lot with descriptive analytics, as most organizations do. It’s those advanced capabilities that we’re trying to develop out. We don’t want to be the department that just receives requests, like ‘I need a dashboard for this or that’; we want to really partner with our business process management team and our informatics team to really be analytic partners, or partners along the analytics journey, with whatever business problem or clinical problem that needs to be addressed.
Gamble: I’m sure that can be challenging. You really have to have good processes in place for managing those requests.
McGill: That’s exactly right. Another important area is data literacy. A lot of our focus over the past two years has been on our analytics capabilities; now we’ve come to the point where we need to build and improve our data literacy and be able to speak data across the organization. The original intent with all these changes was to become a more data-driven organization. We have the technical pieces and we have the dashboards, but can we consistently ensure that people are using that data to make business decisions in real time? And so improving data literally is really a strategic focus throughout the enterprise.
Gamble: You mentioned that you’re a physician. When did you first get into informatics?
McGill: I’ve been with Community Health Network for 11 years; I was just a practicing physician when we implemented Epic. I got involved in some optimization activities and led our optimization committee. Early on, I became certified as an Epic physician builder and got more involved with informatics activities. I’ve always been very focused on process improvement, even going back to the medical school.
I actually have a chemistry degree by background. Chemistry tends to be very ordered and process driven; I’ve always been that kind of thinker and, and it just naturally evolved. I became more involved with informatics as we started to do a lot of work in clinical variation and clinical improvement. And so the natural next step for me was to get involved with analytics and our analytic capabilities.
When we started the Center of Excellence for the analytics department, I was asked by the organization to assume that role, and from there, the other pieces fell into place. Sometimes people raise their eyebrows or question that I don’t have a background in computer science, informatics, or analytics. My answer is that I don’t, but we really wanted to have analytics be connected to the organization strategically. Actually, board made a decision that the Chief Analytics Officer role would go to a physician. We wanted to practice what we preach, which is being a data-driven organization that’s strategically connected with the organization and with our clinical enterprise. Culturally that’s what has made us unique, and successful.
Gamble: So when Epic was being rolled out, were you thinking, ‘I need to be part of this’ or how did that come about?
McGill: My honest answer is no. I was a busy family physician. I was running a clinic and working in nursing homes on the side. In fact, I was a medical director at a couple of nursing homes. The reason I tell this story is because I always encourage young people — young executives and young physicians — to never close a door that opens for you, because you never know what it’s going to bring. I selfishly got involved in the optimization because I wanted to make Epic more efficient for me in my practice. I wanted to have a seat at the table and make sure that we didn’t lose what we had before, and then it just blossomed from there, and I haven’t looked back. I don’t regret; it’s just one of those things where you go into a situation with one mindset, and it changes.
Gamble: Very interesting. Now, when you’re building teams, what do you look for in an individual? Do you tend to think outside the box?
McGill: Absolutely. I try to take a ‘team rivals’ approach — let’s get people from diverse backgrounds and diverse thinking involved. I hired a VP of analytics who was new to healthcare; a lot of the analysts we bring in have never been in healthcare, because they bring a different mindset. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with hiring people who have been in healthcare their whole career. In fact, I think they bring a well-seasoned perspective. Healthcare is complex; it’s not easy to learn, especially when you get into some of the nuances of value-based care. I think having a well-rounded team with diverse thinking, diverse backgrounds, and diverse personalities can make the whole team stronger, especially when you’re dealing with digital transformation and analytics.
Healthcare has lagged behind other industries when it comes to analytics and technology, and so I think bringing some expertise from the outside is a good thing. I don’t see it as a risk; I see it as a benefit.
Gamble: I agree. Hopefully we’ll start to see more of this across the industry. Even looking at C-suite roles, we don’t see that same path that we did 10 years ago.
McGill: And honestly, it’s quite hard for healthcare organizations, especially not-for-profits, to compete with other industries. Indianapolis is a hidden gem when it comes to technology. We have a lot of large, multinational organizations with whom we’re competing for talent.
The reality is, we’ll never be able to compete with Amazon, Google, or Microsoft when it comes to technology, but we can compete in terms of culture; we can compete with doing good work and changing the trajectories of patients’ lives. And so that’s one thing we try to reinforce consistently. Sometimes it’s easy when you’re in IT analytics or process improvement, to keep your head down developing a dashboard. We try to draw things back to our mission and values, and remind people why they are doing what they’re doing.
One way we do that is by telling patient stories and sharing outcomes. For example, this dashboard actually drove improvement and saved a hundred lives that otherwise would’ve been lost. We try to be very thoughtful and mindful by creating analytic snapshots to highlight the outcomes that are achieved through some of these capabilities. Over the past 2 to 3 years, we’ve probably generated close to a hundred snapshots that are validated consistently to show improvements that have been driven by analytics.