How Health Care Executives Can Use Health Outcomes Research for Business Decision Making

Health outcomes studies can offer a lot of benefit for health care delivery organizations that utilize them for business decision-making. This article explores how health outcomes studies can be used to improve organizational performance.

How is your health system stepping up to meet today’s cost, quality, and value challenges? Many health care leaders are looking to health outcomes research to help position their organizations strategically and ensure their success.

The Need for Evidence-Based Decisions

Consider this: The passage and implementation of recent health care reform legislation, including the Affordable Care Act, has put health care leaders under increased pressure to provide high-quality, affordable services for a growing number of patients. As a result, most health systems are struggling to find new and improved ways to do business, focused on providing value-based care designed to bring about the best outcome for patients. That’s where health outcomes data can play an important role. Health outcomes research extends beyond clinical results to include more subjective data than is considered by other research methods used in health care, such as patient quality of life and satisfaction ratings. Since these types of functional measurements are a growing factor in payment rates, policies, and regulations, their inclusion is incredibly important for both clinical and business decision-making. Health outcomes data also comes from a wide variety of sources, including health systems, insurance providers, regulatory agencies, and more. As a result of the many layers of data it explores, this type of research paints a three-dimensional picture and offers essential insight that can be used to help steer organizations to success over the long term.

Ways to Apply Health Outcomes Research

While health outcomes data can be used to improve almost any area of health care, there are some common ways that health executives are currently applying research findings to help their organizations. Here are five ways health systems can put health outcomes research to work to meet the demands of the future:

  • Health outcomes research can be used as a framework to evaluate internal operations and to identify areas that could benefit from improvement. In addition, outcomes measures can provide a convenient way to monitor changes and evaluate their effectiveness. Further, the data can be used to help identify gaps in care, and this information can be used to develop new service lines.
  • Health outcomes research can also be used to evaluate patient responses to a variety of factors, such as satisfaction with their provider’s expertise, bedside manner, and communication skills. It’s also important to measure patient satisfaction with the health care facility itself, exploring details such as wait time and perception of cleanliness. Keep in mind that since reimbursement structures are increasingly tied to such patient ratings, health care systems can use this data to identify areas of weakness and to determine how best to address them to improve scores and, ultimately, make the most of the financial incentives offered.
  • In response to increasing pressures to contain costs while increasing quality of care and outcomes, some hospital executives are looking to health outcomes data to identify places to eliminate, expand, or improve their services. Removal of poorly performing service lines and the addition or expansion of existing high-performance services can help hospitals meet the highest quality standards while improving financial outcomes. When used appropriately, concrete research findings can help leaders focus on where to invest to get the best impact. Health information technology, for example, requires a major upfront investment, but can lead to better outcomes that ultimately justify the cost. Health outcomes data can illustrate this cost/benefit equation and help leaders gain support to make such expenditures.
  • Administrators can also look to health outcomes data gathered externally (such as by other health care facilities and systems, payers, and medical researchers) to learn from these examples and apply the findings to strengthen their own efforts. The data can provide valuable insight into which clinical approaches and treatment methods are having the desired impact for different target populations and situations. This information can also help administrators tailor their own system’s treatment approaches to make them more effective. In addition, health outcomes data gathered by external sources can provide administrators with industry benchmarks to determine how they compare to peer organizations and competitors.

Health outcomes research is important for both clinical and business decision-making

  • Educating patients, families, and communities about their own health conditions and treatment options is another powerful use of health outcomes research. By sharing this information with patients, providers can encourage them to take a more active role in their own care and treatment. With today’s emphasis on rewarding hospitals and providers for helping patients stay well rather than waiting to treat people when they become ill, hospitals have a vested interest in helping to motivate patients to become more involved in their own care and also in getting feedback on how well the system is meeting their needs and expectations. Further, since patients are taking on more of the burden of paying for their own health care expenses, health care leaders can also use health outcomes data to market their services, and help patients see the value in choosing their system over the competition.

Putting It into Perspective

Health outcomes studies can offer a lot of benefit for health care delivery organizations that utilize them for business decision-making. A growing number of health care leaders are already making good use of this valuable resource. They recognize that the evidence can provide a window into their system’s strengths and weakness and the information can be leveraged to help them make strategic decisions and improvements as needed. Most policy experts also agree that this commitment to incorporating such broad based findings will continue to be essential as health care continues to evolve in new and exciting directions.

Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health offers Measurement, Design, and Analysis Methods for Health Outcomes Research, an introductory course in health outcomes research. To learn more about this opportunity, click here.