This tweet highlighted an interesting observation I had after experiencing so many healthcare analytics pitches going into and at HIMSS. I’ll set aside the email comment for now (email is still very powerful if done right) and instead focus on Excel. Here’s what I discovered about healthcare analytics:
Excel is a healthcare analytics company’s biggest competitor.
It’s crazy to think about, but it’s true. When a healthcare organization is evaluating healthcare analytics platform the “legacy system” that they’re usually trying to replace is Excel. I can’t tell you how many times I heard analytics vendors say that “Hospital A was doing all of this previously on a bunch of Excel spreadsheets.” If you work at a hospital, you know that you have your own garden of Excel spreadsheets that are used to run your healthcare organization as well.
When you think about the features of Excel, it’s no wonder why it’s so popular in healthcare and why it’s a challenging competitor for most healthcare organizations. First, it’s free. Ok, it’s not technically free, but every healthcare organization has to buy it for a lot of reasons so that cost is already in their standard budget. Second, every computer in the organization has a copy of Excel on it. Third, the majority of people in healthcare are familiar with how to use Excel. Since we love to talk about healthcare IT usability, Excel is extremely usable. Fourth, Excel is surprisingly powerful. I know many healthcare analytics organizations could argue its limitations, but Excel is more powerful than most people realize.
That’s not to say that Excel doesn’t have its weaknesses. I’m sure that most organizations have experienced time wasted trying to figure out which Excel file has the accurate data or is the most up to date. No doubt you’ve experienced the multiple copy problem where 2 people are editing the same file and now you have 2 versions of the same file that need to be merged. Document management software has helped with this situation in many regards as it locks the file when someone starts to edit it and things like that. However, it’s still often a problem.
Another problem with Excel as compared with a true analytics platform is when you want to go in and slice and dice the data. What’s possible with a true analytics platform is so much more powerful when you want to really dive in and chop up the data in unique ways.
While possible in Excel, most uses of Excel are backwards facing data analysis and tracking. You can do some near real-time data analysis in Excel, but newer analytics platforms do a much better job of real time analytics using the latest data.
Of course, the biggest problem long term with Excel is that it can’t scale. Once you reach a certain amount of data points or a certain amount of complexity in the data, Excel falls on its face. However, most healthcare organizations are still working on small data, so Excel’s worked fine.
I’m sure there are many more issues. Hopefully some analytics vendors will chime in with more examples in the comments or on their own blogs. However, it’s worth acknowledging that for many organizations it’s really hard for them to find a healthcare analytics solutions that’s so much better than Excel. Plus, many of these expensive analytics solutions fail when it comes to some of the things that makes Excel great (ie. Free, Usable, Ubiquitous).