A Look At Geisinger’s Big Data Efforts

Posted on December 28, 2016 I Written By

Anne Zieger is veteran healthcare editor and analyst with 25 years of industry experience. Zieger formerly served as editor-in-chief of FierceHealthcare.com and her commentaries have appeared in dozens of international business publications, including Forbes, Business Week and Information Week. She has also contributed content to hundreds of healthcare and health IT organizations, including several Fortune 500 companies. She can be reached at @ziegerhealth or www.ziegerhealthcare.com.

This week I got a look at a story appearing in a recent issue of Harvard Business Review which offers a description of Geisinger Health System’s recent big data initiatives. The ambitious project is designed not only to track and analyze patient outcomes, but also to visualize healthcare data across cohorts of patients and networks of providers and even correlate genomic sequences with clinical care. Particularly given that Geisinger has stayed on the cutting edge of HIT for many years, I think it’s worth a look.

As the article’s authors note, Geisinger rolled out a full-featured EMR in 1996, well ahead of most of its peers. Like many other health systems, Geisinger has struggled to aggregate and make use of data. That’s particularly the case because as with other systems, Geisinger’s legacy analytics systems still in place can’t accommodate the growing flood of new data types emerging today.

Last year, Geisinger decided to create a new infrastructure which could bring this data together. It implemented Unified Data Architecture allowing it to integrate big data into its existing data analytics and management.  According to the article, Geisinger’s UDA rollout is the largest practical application of point-of-care big data in the industry. Of particular note, Geisinger is crunching not only enterprise healthcare data (including HIE inputs, clinical departmental systems and patient satisfaction surveys) and consumer health tools (like smartphone apps) but even grocery store and loyalty program info.

Though all of its data hasn’t yet been moved to the UDA, Geisinger has already seen some big data successes, including:

* “Close the Loop” program:  Using natural language processing, the UDA analyzes clinical and diagnostic imaging reports, including free text. Sometimes it detects problems that may not be relevant to the initial issue (such as injuries from a car crash) which can themselves cause serious harm. The program has already saved patient lives.

* Early sepsis detection/treatment: Geisinger uses the UDA to bring all sepsis-patient information in one place as they travel through the hospital. The system alerts providers to real-time physiologic data in patients with life-threatening septic shock, as well as tracking when antibiotics are prescribed and administered. Ninety percent of providers who use this tool consistently adhere to sepsis treatment protocols, as opposed to 40% of those who don’t.

* Surgery costs/outcomes: The Geisinger UDA tracks and integrates surgical supply-chain data, plus clinical data by surgery type and provider, which offers a comprehensive view of performance by provider and surgery type.  In addition to offering performance insight, this approach has also helped generate insights about supply use patterns which allow the health system to negotiate better vendor deals.

To me, one of the most interesting things about this story is that while Geisinger is at a relatively early stage of its big data efforts, it has already managed to generate meaningful benefits from its efforts. My guess is that its early successes are more due to smart planning – which includes worthwhile goals from day one of the rollout — than the technology per se. Regardless, let’s hope other hospital big data projects fare so well. (Meanwhile, for a look at another interesting hospital big data project, check out this story.)