At Seattle Children’s, Moving Forward to Leverage Analytics for Clinical Performance Improvement

Oct. 5, 2016
A concerted push along numerous fronts to leverage data analytics to continuously improve clinical performance, is reaping benefits at Seattle Children’s Hospital

The chief data officer of Seattle Children’s Hospital, Eugene Kolker, Ph.D., is leading the organization’s data and analytics team in order to leverage large and complex data to improve clinical performance.  Data can inform improvements in patient safety and outcomes and drive innovation, as described at the team’s website. The approaches that Dr. Kolker and his colleagues employ speak to the topics that will be discussed next month on a panel entitled “Transforming Healthcare Outcomes and Delivery with Data & Analytics.”

That panel discussion will take place on Sep. 17 at the Rosewood Hotel Georgia, as part of the Health IT Summit in Vancouver (British Columbia, Canada), to be held Sep. 17-18. The Summit is being sponsored by the Institute for Health Technology Transformation (iHT2, a sister organization to Healthcare Informatics, under our corporate parent, Vendome Group, LLC).

Among the topics to be discussed on Sep. 17 will be successful strategies and tactics for the leaders of healthcare organizations as they pursue the leveraging of analytics for clinical performance improvement.

Dr. Kolker spoke recently with Healthcare Informatics regarding the efforts currently taking place at Seattle Children’s. Below are excerpts from that interview.

In this broad area of leveraging analytics for clinical performance improvement, what are you and your colleagues most focused on these days?

Our overall goal is to utilize our data as a strategic organization asset and leverage analytics for better-informed decision-making—we call it data-driven decision-making. Specifically, we are focusing on the Benchmarking Improvement Program in which we benchmark our clinical performance against ourselves and that of the best-performing healthcare organizations in our industry. For example, we analyze our rates of hospital-acquired infections across the entire enterprise and compare to other top performing hospitals. As our organization participates in the U.S. News and World Report (USNWR) process, we reuse the data and measures for the benchmarking work. Virtually all U.S. hospitals and health systems participate in the USNWR process every year, so all can reuse their own data to measure and improve their care.

Are you benchmarking against the national children’s hospital registries and databases, too?

Yes, some of the USNWR clinical measures come from these sources, including, for example, pediatric cardiology and disease-specific registries and databases.

What are the key clinical areas you’ve been using analytics to help improve outcomes in? And what have been some of the results?

With this program, we’re trying to improve how we care for patients at both the enterprise level and the (specialty) service line level. That could mean, for example, reducing infection rates across the entire hospital. With this approach we identify areas of opportunity and improvement, and prioritize how we can act.

Can you provide any specific examples?

Yes, one of the most recent examples relates to serious improvements in Pulmonology service line. Pulmonology was very successful in improving infection preventing measures for their patients.

You refer to some aspects of clinical performance improvement on your team’s website.

Yes, if you can go to and navigate to the section Success Stories you’ll see some of our projects, for example:  “Hospital Performance Benchmarking: Prioritize Areas of Improvement based on USNWR Metrics.”

So you took the U.S. News & World Report measures, and are benchmarking your organization to identify and prioritize care improvements?

Yes, and the whole point of our data & analytics approach is to improve care quality and patient experience. We provide very clear information detailing where we stand compared to top performers. And we also provide the insights into where and how much improvement needs to happen to become better performers.

So the process is continuous and looks at benchmarked data: determining where the gaps and opportunities are, and making and prioritizing improvements. Until couple years ago, we were primarily working with specific service lines. We then realized we needed to embark on hospital-wide improvement processes. As a result, we have had major improvements all across the enterprise as well as in specific service lines, as we discussed above.

What do you think is the secret to success in all these areas, broadly speaking?

The secret is that you need to engage people. We call it PPT approach: People - first, Process - second, and Technology - third. That’s the order.

What advice would you offer to data and IT professionals in healthcare organizations?

To work with people more! We all need to improve our people skills. Say you are good with technology or data. Good for you, but who cares? We need to work with people, engage them, and turn them into real collaborators, which we call FDAs – friends of data & analytics. No amount of technology will help patients without caring and empowered doctors, nurses, and staff.