Data Collection 2.0: A Q&A with Andrea Stark

How providers can better understand the ways their IT systems can serve up strategically advantageous data.

Andrea Stark is a managing partner of MiraVista LLC, a consulting firm dedicated to serving the HME industry, including helping providers to understand and use their data for business success.

HME Business: How are HME providers using their collected data?

Andrea Stark: Providers are still struggling with knowing where their money is coming from and where they are losing money by payer and by product. I find that a lot of providers struggle with getting acceptable management reporting that helps them make their business decisions. Some people need a third set of eyes to be able to point them in the right direction. They don’t have that high-level, bird’s-eye view. They are very close to the numbers and sometimes it can be helpful to get an expert to help you go over your numbers and make sure that the reporting you’re getting is consistent. I see a lot of providers go after data to answer one specific question and that leads them down a rabbit hole to go after more information. Without direction, we end up getting lost in all of these custom, one-time reports that keep us from monitoring the up-and-down trends that happen over time. If you don’t have a consistent reporting package, you will miss important changes and can’t really benchmark success or failures.

Beyond operational reporting, the next generation of data collection will require us to leverage our specialties to make DME relevant in our broader clinical community. For example, if you have a respiratory specialty practice, how will you use your data to make yourself marketable to area hospitals? It is important to establish ourselves as partners that make a difference with patient outcomes. We need to demonstrate with data how we are reducing the amount of readmissions and the length of hospital stays.

We should also be mining for data within our own software to market additional products to existing customers. If you have customers that you know are diabetic, and you carry diabetic shoes, make sure they know you can help them. Just because you set them up with a CPAP doesn’t mean you shouldn’t market diabetic shoes. We can increase sales by sending targeted mailers to customers with relevant diagnoses for when they next need that service.

Data can be used to solve lots of problems. As we just discussed, there’s a host of metrics to help the owners and the management make better business decisions and to hold people accountable within the organization. There’s other information that we can use to help grow the business, make it profitable and also expand product offerings. We can even use data to promote better clinical outcomes if we track and measure consistently.

HMEB: What should all providers be doing today to make better use of their data?

Stark: Collection percentage has proven to be the most important metric. What are you putting to the bottom line and how you get there is so important. To get this data, providers need to monitor activity by payer. Is your AR [Accounts Receivable] going up? Is it going down? What are your sales doing? How much are we collecting? Evaluate these questions in terms of product and payer mixes. Solid answers to these basic questions can really give you helpful insight to dig in deeper and prune or expand where the numbers support it. From a high-level overview, these are a few starting points. You need to run your reports at the end of the month after all activity is posted. Determine where you sit by payer and product, then do it again next month. The numbers should tell you where change is most needed, especially as you monitor month over month.

HMEB: What are some of the reasons providers may not be collecting the right data?

Stark: Many providers don’t, or can’t, make the time; perhaps they’re frustrated because they’ve been unsuccessful at creating a useful reporting package. But making time is important — we tell clients that collecting and acting on data is something you have to do. If it’s not something you will or can do, then find someone who can get you started and, most importantly, help you be consistent about it.

Not everyone needs outside help for extended periods. Some just need a jumpstart, a diagnostic health checkup using their data and their software. Others acknowledge they just won’t stick with it if left to their own devices and distractions. Those are real challenges. It is not dissimilar to a personal trainer. For some, they just need to be shown how and they can go from there; others acknowledge they need that outside pressure to hold them accountable. In our firm we see both scenarios. But either way, the end result is a healthier company.

While they all differ, I have yet to find a software package that can’t facilitate the necessary data extraction. I think for some providers this is the initial hang up — they can figure out how to get to the useful data. However, in my experience, the trick is to export the data, get it into Excel or some type of database format, and then manipulate it from there. We’ve taught several courses at Medtrade and at state association conventions with the end goal of getting people over their discomfort of working with exports and database programs. It doesn’t require rocket science. Suppliers sell themselves short all too often, but these are really smart people who can understand the numbers once they get there. After you get a base level of comfort, you can always build up experience with higher functions and do more with the data using pivot tables and other whiz bang — but you just have to get started.

HMEB: Who in the HME organization typically does the data mining?

Stark: It doesn’t really require an IT professional. Most of the billing software packages enable end users to export data. In the right culture, we should be encouraging our AR managers and even our AR staff, intake managers, owners, and other personnel to leverage data to help them perform better. The healthiest companies have a culture that encourages staff to leverage data to solve problems and evolve.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of HME Business.

About the Author

Joseph Duffy is a freelance writer and marketing consultant, and a regular contributor to HME Business. He can be reached via e-mail at joe@prooferati.com.

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