Successfully Scale Healthcare Data Visualization by Growing Data-Driven Culture

data visualization, data visualization tools

Healthcare data visualization can improve patient care, revolutionize provider access to data, streamline financial assessment abilities, and optimize organizational processes, but this is only possible when healthcare organizations pair data visualization investments with a long-term effort to create a data-driven culture.

More than 80% of finance leaders in healthcare said that they planned to increase their analytics investments from 2019-2021, but many healthcare organizations still struggle to get the promised value from their data visualization tools. A study from the Healthcare Financial Management Association (HFMA) highlights that cultural issues and technological issues are the two greatest barriers to seeing a return on analytics investments for healthcare organizations. This is unsurprising, considering that only 8% of organizations currently successfully achieve analytics at scale—and culture is what sets that 8% apart from the rest.

It takes more than making data visualization tools available to get true value out of healthcare data. How can healthcare organizations ensure that they get the most out of their investment in data visualization? And how can they remove any barriers to successfully scaling their use of healthcare data visualization tools?

In this blogpost we’ll unpack why growing a data-driven culture is the key to successfully scaling healthcare data visualization tools as well as key facets of what that data-driven culture should look like.

Why is a data culture crucial to successfully using healthcare data visualization?

Value based care requirements instigated an important shift to measuring success, patient outcomes, and organizational costs with healthcare data visualization tools and analytics, but the quality and efficiency of that measurement still has a long way to go.

More than half of the respondents in HFMA’s study stated that organizational strategy and analytics investments were only somewhat aligned or not aligned at all in their organizations, and 29% have no measures in place for measuring the success of their analytics initiatives. Further, care delivery processes are far from consistency or standardization and are very dependent on individual employee behavior; such inconsistency makes it hard to measure results of healthcare data analytics efforts and patient outcomes.

We love Tableau’s point in their recent article on responding to crises using analytics - “The truth is that while having access to data is critical, the real impact comes from people. People are the ones who analyze the data, glean insights from the data, share the data, and shape our responses to the data. Data on its own is worthless.” People, not data visualization tools, make decisions. And making decisions with data means you’ll make the right decision more often. That’s crucial in healthcare. And its important to the success or failure of value-based care initiatives.

Culture isn’t always the first thing leaders think of when they’re not seeing a return on investment, but culture accounts for the people factor that makes or breaks the success of data visualization efforts in healthcare organizations. Consider what culture encompasses—culture accounts for the mindset of leadership and employees’ response to leadership, to executive and employee willingness to take time to understand and follow through on new initiatives, to how well employees respect governance and security measures, to a willingness to share ideas and collaborate.

All aspects of culture affect how effectively and often employees use the healthcare data visualization tools made available to them. If you can change how people in your organization use healthcare data visualization tools rather than just make the tools available, you’ll start seeing the value you’re looking for from your investment.

A data-driven culture bridges the gap between having access to data visualization tools and truly relying on the data to make more informed decisions, improve care, and optimize spending and organizational efficiency. Growing a data-driven culture in your healthcare organization ensures that processes are in place to maintain trust in the data, measure the effectiveness of data use, and continue to grow employee’s respect for the value of data visualization throughout the organization. Instilling these processes takes consistency and long-term commitment.

What’s in it for healthcare organizations who invest in growing a data-driven culture around data visualization? Data-driven decision making leads to a 5-6% increase in productivity and increases revenue by 8%. So how do healthcare organizations create the data-driven culture to get there?

5 Key Ways to Grow a Data-Driven Culture in Healthcare Organizations:

The companies who successfully scaled analytics had 5 things in common:

  1. They built up a trust in data throughout the organization
  2. They had a leadership team that was committed to the long-term, intentional use of data for every decision
  3. They hired and redefined job roles to reflect their focus on being data-driven
  4. They created an environment where people share data regularly
  5. And they had a permeating mindset that prioritizes making decisions with data above all else


  1. Building Trust

Your organization’s data must be trustworthy in order for people to use healthcare data visualization tools. In healthcare especially, timely, accurate data makes the difference when it comes to an accurate diagnosis or the proper allocation of resources. Employees in every area of the organization need to know that the data is accurate and up to date, whether its patient information or financial data. Governance processes should be in place to ensure that the data is secure and maintained and that only necessary data is available for access by employees.

There is no need to overload visualization tools with healthcare data that will not actually be used. The data should always correlate with a desired action or benchmark. If healthcare organizations especially do not keep clear sight of exactly what they’ll be using the data for, they could get lost in the vast amount of data available to them. By building dashboards with only key information that needs to be seen by physicians, financial leaders, or organizational leaders, these key players can stay on top of only the information that applies to their role or current departmental goals and their trust in data will grow.

Reliable technology also needs to be in place for the data to be trusted. In HFMA’s study, 30% of healthcare respondents cited “legacy/outdated systems” and “poor systems integration” as a roadblock to success when scaling visualization and analytics solutions. For a culture to be data-driven, the technology cannot get in the way. Accessing pertinent data needs to be as seamless as possible for the end user so that they keep coming back to the data.

  1. Leadership Committed to Data

Without the commitment of key leaders throughout the organization, data visualization tools won’t be used to their full potential, and you’ll lose steam shortly after adoption. Organizations truly become data-driven when leadership is committed to using healthcare data visualization themselves, planning initiatives as a result of what the data says, following up on the success of those initiatives with measurable outcomes, and growing in their data visualization skills with their team.

In healthcare organizations, those in leadership are responsible for creating care models that set the organization up for greatest quality and efficiency, and oftentimes they are the only ones with the authority to make those wide-scale decisions. If a leader is data-driven, they will use data visualization to identify inefficiencies in patient care, operations, and financial and payment models and then rework any processes necessary to improve efficiency. Without leadership diving into healthcare data visualization, key changes that would help the organization meet value-based care requirements or improve patient outcomes might not be made.

Leaders in healthcare organizations should set the example by:

  • Challenging actions by asking for supporting data
  • Setting clear goals based on identified areas for improvement
  • Ensuring that data is in place to measure success and share outcomes using visualizations
  • Following up with employees regularly about those key measures of success

Leadership has the greatest responsibility to hold employees accountable for being data-driven, and they must set the pace by being data-driven themselves.

Becker’s Hospital Review shared the impact of defining clear goals using data visualization, saying: “Defining strategies, tactics, and operational initiatives with measures of success can create a top-down cultural transformation that clarifies the staff skill sets needed and where staff at all levels understand their contributions.” Clearly communicated goals with measurable benchmarks equip all employees, not just leadership, to be a source of increased efficiency and improvement in healthcare organizations.

Finally, when leadership clearly communicates goals and follows up with employees about the data they are seeing behind those goals, this opens the door for discussion of unforeseen roadblocks. For example, let’s say a department head has the goal to decrease patient wait times by a certain percentage over a 3 month period by doing x, y, and z, and they follow up in bi-weekly meetings with employees, using healthcare data visualization tools to share and discuss progress. In their meetings to review the data, they find out through discussion that when employees try to do x to decrease patient wait times, the same problem comes up continually. Leadership can then address any of these related, unforeseen problems to ensure that x can be done and get back to the larger goal of decreasing patient wait times. By discussing these issues with employees and tracking progress with healthcare data visualization, you can continually discuss and remove roadblocks until you see measurable improvement. The identification of roadblocks comes through intentional conversation around results.

One of the greatest ways for leaders to set the example in any healthcare organization is to attend any training on data visualization with their employees. This demonstrates that being data-driven is truly a priority of leadership, enough that they’ll spend time on it themselves. And it ensures that those in leadership know at least as much as their employees if not more about the healthcare data visualization tools and dashboards they’re asking people to use.

  1. Hiring and redefining roles to be data-driven

As the data footprint grows and there is more access to population health data, patient-specific health data, and internal data, healthcare organizations need to hire and train talent that is proficient in using data visualization tools and that can transform insight gleaned from data into action.

Is your organization specifically hiring people who point back to the data when making decisions? Is the priority of healthcare data visualization represented on every team? This can be accomplished on teams by having either a distinct analytics-focused position or a very proficient user that is responsible for educating and sharing resources, bringing data back into discussions, and following up on key benchmarks of success with the data. Cross-functional teams are essential to fostering a data-driven culture in healthcare and getting long-term value from data visualization investments.

Also crucial to your strategy for implementing healthcare data visualization- is there an assigned executive who is accountable for the organization’s data use? This executive (usually a CDO), is responsible for bringing data visualization back into every conversation and making sure the technology, strategy, support, and resources are in place to grow a data-driven culture in the organization.

This executive follows up on the data about the data; they ensure measures are in place to tell the success of adoption for the organization’s healthcare data visualization tools, and they report the data behind that success to key stakeholders. They use those measures to identify room for improvement in adoption and drive further training initiatives to continue improving data literacy organization-wide and move toward being ever-more data-driven.

Without this executive follow-up and accountability its much easier for adoption efforts for visualization tools to fall through the cracks, as other executives in healthcare may be more specifically concerned with patient-centric responsibilities; having an executive specifically responsible for healthcare data visualization initiatives will ensure that data remains a priority and will in fact strengthen every other area of your organization. Your CDO will ensure that financial executives see the health of the organization in real time, that your chief medical officer has up-to-date, regular information on physician performance, that your chief clinical officer can easily see quality of care metrics—all extremely important processes that could be supported and strengthened by data if it is made a priority and easily accessible to them amidst their already busy days.

  1. Creating an Environment for Sharing Analytics Knowledge and Findings

If the data is available but no one shares or discusses it, then you probably are not utilizing your healthcare data visualization tools to their greatest potential. With analytics tools like Tableau, dashboards update in real time and can be shared easily. In a data-driven healthcare organization, reviewing and sharing visualizations about performance and key measures of quality of care is a regular occurrence, and leaders regularly disseminate important data to employees so that they know exactly how their actions contribute to organizational goals.

According to Becker’s Hospital review “While investment in tools and resources demonstrates leadership’s commitment to transformation, creating transparency regarding performance against measurable strategies can have a much more significant impact on culture.” When healthcare employees regularly see in data visualizations that they contribute to real improvement, especially in areas like improving patient experiences and outcomes or utilizing hospital resources in a way that makes quality care more affordable, this success creates an organization-wide appetite for data. Discussing data becomes a matter of habit and culture because its so easy to access and employees get to take part in seeing progress.

So how do you create this environment where employees are excited to dive into the data and share their progress and findings in key areas of improvement? Leadership should provide ongoing opportunities for employees to increase their data literacy, share their learning with each other, and ask questions long after initial deployment of healthcare data visualization tools.

This can be as easy as scheduling a regular healthcare data visualization training meeting once a month or bi-monthly and keeping a data-focused Slack channel open at all times so people can ask questions or share important dashboards. Consider also scheduling weekly or bi-weekly meetings in each department where the sole purpose is to share research and performance data and discuss how to improve processes for greater efficiency or quality of care based on the data. These meetings can be extremely affirming for employees, offering time for them to share what they are experiencing on the front lines and bring up problems that can be resolved.

  1. A mindset that prioritizes data

Lastly, organization wide, employees need an understanding of the importance of data visualization and know why they should trust data above gut feel, rank, or personal goals. If employees or especially those in leadership are more concerned with accomplishing personal goals, making decisions without data because its what they’ve always done, or trying an option because it feels like it might be the right thing (even though the data doesn’t support it), your progress could easily be derailed.

This is why its essential for healthcare organizations who want to be data-driven to invest adequate time in training employees and those in leadership to increase their data literacy and use data visualization tools more effectively and efficiently. Cast a clear vision for exactly what data can do- paint a picture of the possibility and share with employees how being data-driven will make an impact. For example, if your goal is to increase the accuracy of patient health data so that you can make more accurate diagnoses the first time- share that with employees so they know not only what measurable results you’re going for- but how that will translate to direct improvement in peoples’ lives.

In his Ted Talk on data-driven healthcare, Aaron Black, CDO at Inova Translational Medicine Institute reminded listeners, “We need to remember why we’re doing this. Its not to build big technology… until we really treat these data [points], these technologies, and these predictions with the same strong emotions that we show for our loved ones, only then will this technology’s impact be realized.” He goes on to share that every data point that a physician sees is much more than just a visualization—that every data point represents a very real moment or experience in a patient’s daily life; the physician’s response to that important data affects whether the patient will get to continue spending time with loved ones and affects the quality of the patient’s everyday life.

The data-driven mindset in healthcare is one that understands that, by looking at data- you can truly extend and improve lives. Every decision made more efficiently or effectively could mean that someone had a more accurate diagnosis the first time, didn’t have to wait in the ER when they needed critical care, or had less crippling medical debt because of affordable care efforts. When looking at visualizations and healthcare data, its essential to keep the patient in mind and let that fuel the motivation to make the best decision the first time.

Seemingly minute decisions that employees make on a daily basis are what make a healthcare organization truly data-driven. Kim Carter of Legacy Health in Portland says employees, especially managers, struggle with taking time to look at the data when it feels like there are other needs that are more pressing or greater priority. She says, “Is the culture telling a clinic manager to be out solving problems and available for her staff throughout the day, or is it requiring her to also be looking at the data to ensure that they’re meeting their targets for the day? It is about getting a little bit more data-focused as we go along.”

Culture and clearly communicated priorities make a difference; therefore leadership needs to follow up with every level of the organization continuously to discuss the data behind decisions. Executives and department heads must continuously emphasize the priority of data and the fact that its okay and necessary to take the little bit of extra time to look at the data before making a decision, even if its tempting to prioritize other tasks. When employees understand the impact that taking the extra time to dive into the data can have on the patient and know that they have permission to take that time out of their day, a data mindset is fostered in the organization and you’ve paved the way for true data-driven progress.

Becoming data-driven is a long-term investment and will take years of commitment and intentional training, sharing, and discussion. It is okay to start small. Start by growing a data culture around healthcare data visualization in one critical department and expand once you see proven success in that department. Then use that story of success to discuss the expansion of data visualization into other areas with key stakeholders.

If your organization has invested in data visualization tools and is looking to ensure success at scale, CSG can help you align your data strategy with action and remove any roadblocks to making data-driven decisions for your organization. As technology and culture are the two greatest inhibitors of success at scale for healthcare data visualization efforts, don’t hesitate to get in touch if your organization is experiencing trouble with outdated legacy systems, lack of data integrity and access, or in growing employees’ understanding and reliance on data. We’d be glad to help. Get in touch let's talk about your organization's strategy for healthcare data visualization today.

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