64% of healthcare organizations don’t use consumer-centric data scorecards to stay on top of their performance or use them only on a limited basis.

During the recent National Spelling Bee, ESPN analysts were enthralled with Simone Kaplan of Davie, Fla., who spelled her words with breakneck speed. Averaging 28 seconds per word, she finished well ahead of the two-minute limit. It’s a metric that left her competitors in the dust.

But ultimately, fan-favorite Kaplan came in ninth place—one spot away from joining the “octo-champs” in a historic victory that would have netted her $50,000, a gold trophy, and some well-earned accolades. As amazing as the speed of her delivery was, speed doesn’t win spelling bee championships. Accuracy does. And as the ESPN analysts commented after her defeat, perhaps another year of maturity would help the 13-year-old better pace herself to capture a win next year.

For healthcare leaders, it’s a cautionary tale of the need to focus on the right metrics with the right data at the right time in comparing their performance against peers.

For example, thousands of metrics are used to measure healthcare organizations’ financial performance. But 41% of healthcare finance leaders aren’t satisfied with the way in which financial performance benchmarks inform strategic decision making, a recent survey found. Meanwhile, 15% don’t use financial performance benchmarks at all.

86% of healthcare leaders agree cost transformation is a significant or very significant need, especially in an era of consumerism and value-based payment. One in two say their ability to report cost and profitability metrics and trends is limited. That’s because the data, analytics, and tools to drive cost improvement are either missing or unreliable in many organizations.

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And while consumer needs and expectations for care are rising, 64% of healthcare organizations don’t use consumer-centric data scorecards to stay on top of their performance or use them only on a limited basis.

How can healthcare leaders bolster their ability to develop more strategic comparisons of performance?

Here are three tips.

Invest in timely data

Though speed may have been a shortfall for Kaplan, it’s a necessity for healthcare information. When comparing their organizations to others, most hospitals and health systems use enterprise-level data that’s nine months to two years old—much too outdated to effectively compare performance across the organization. And sometimes, specific peer-level benchmarking data is not available. This makes it impossible to provide context to the numbers by comparing performance internally and against organizations of similar size and type.

At a time when 95% of healthcare finance leaders feel increased pressure to pinpoint how financial results impact business strategy, timely access to robust comparative data is critical. Data from both internal and external sources should be captured monthly, not just quarterly or annually. These data should compare financial performance across the organization and with peers—by region, state, hospital, department, bed size, and more.

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Access to timely, robust comparative data empowers executives to identify improvement opportunities and drive action in as close to real time as possible.

Reevaluate the metrics your organization uses to measure success

Zeroing in on the most appropriate key performance indicators (KPIs) is the first step toward measurable performance improvement. For example, healthcare leaders routinely measure unique patient growth and the average wait time between scheduling and completing an appointment to gauge whether they are providing a consumer-centric experience. Yet three out of four don’t assess a metric that can quickly erode patient satisfaction: in-office wait times. Just 14% measure “purchase loyalty,” or the share of patient healthcare spending they garner.

Putting your organization’s performance into context requires a focus on the right metrics at the right time. It also necessitates sharing of data not just with senior leaders, but also with front-line staff who directly impact results. Access to actionable data on a regular basis gives staff a clear view into the types of improvements needed and ownership in making a difference.

Use a single-source data platform for comparative analytics. This provides consistency across all reports, both internal and external. It also ensures the right information is communicated to the right level—from department managers to the CEO—at the right time.

The ideal platform will integrate data from any source into a single repository for planning, analysis, and reporting. It’s an approach that supports real-time decision making and sustainable improvement.

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Evaluating your organization’s performance standalone prevents you from seeing yourself in context of the competitive landscape in which you operate. By comparing their performance to similar-sized hospitals or hospitals operating in their metro area, organizations can identify opportunities to optimize financial success while delivering quality care.

A data-driven mindset for success

With another year of perspective, Simone Kaplan could combine her innate swagger with the unique intelligence gained from experience in beating her competition. For healthcare leaders, access to timely data intelligence around metrics that matter could mean the difference between surviving and thriving in an intensely competitive market. Now is the time to ramp up comparative analytic capabilities for next-level performance.

Kermit Randa is CEO of Kaufman Hall Software.

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