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by Dr. Gary Evan Day | Sheik Abdullah Jamal Mohideen
Published on May 4, 2021

Our data journey

Big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, visual analytics, natural language processing – sounds too familiar?

These are the terminologies often associated with state-of-the-art analytical journeys to achieve specific outcomes. This blog about Sheikh Khalifa Medical City Ajman (SKMCA) skips all the jargon and moves directly to the outcomes that have been achieved.

The journey has been astonishing at SKMCA. It has given us an insight that achieving measurable outcomes can become a reality by having the right vision, right people and right processes, coupled with sufficient technology and visionary leadership.

What makes it so hard?

I have worked on many data-related projects from simple reporting, to building state-of-the-art healthcare data warehouses, to artificial intelligence and genomic research. I have learnt that the biggest challenges in making a data-driven organization aren’t technical but habitual.

It is easier to describe to people in organizations the importance of data being part of any decision-making process, as well as when buying tools and technologies. However, a shift in mindset always presents a very daunting challenge – a fundamental transformation that often starts at the top.

Having faith in the system

The trust between a system and its users for an organization is a chicken-and-egg problem, often leaving the leaders at the top with the question: “Which one should I trust to begin with – my people or my system?”

It is here that SKMCA acted very differently. The quality team, with support from the performance and strategy team, was able to set an expectation that insights and decisions must be anchored in data as the new norm. The team also emphasized the importance of evidence-based decision making, as well as how the system and workforce are not sequential, but rather need to be considered in parallel.

Choosing objectives and creating urgency

Enhancing the decision-making process through data is an iterative process and needs to be adjusted as and when there is a change in one of the three pillars of the organization – people, process and technology (PPT).

The SKMCA leadership was quick to understand and implement this, by addressing the Quadruple Aim – better outcomes, lower costs, improved patient experience and enhanced clinician experience.

The operational reporting objectives, such as quality reporting and KPIs, were prioritized very well. As these metrics had an overall impact and higher visibility across the organization, they helped in speeding things up and created the necessary urgency.

Empowering teams

Specific teams were formed to efficiently distribute ownership and accountability. The SKMCA–Cerner partnership was key, as the application team and the data team were incorporated in each of these teams – this helped the PPT work in unison. The creation of smaller workgroups supported the Cerner team in delivering focused training on the self-service model of reporting and achieving the goals of distributing ownership and be the change agents for this cultural shift of having data drive the decision making.

Traditionally, organizations have maintained a defined boundary between the users, the system and the data person. SKMCA empowered their teams and Cerner by breaking this boundary and making it highly porous, thus increasing the collaborative efficiency to achieve the mission.

This helped fix the usual minor obstacles that would usually consume bureaucratical delays with respect to access, workflow enhancement and process approvals much faster and effectively. The access to data was democratized and all had access to data whenever required. The SKMCA IT team helped by coordinating continuous training to encourage users to adopt the available tool set. The whole cycle of data requests to preparation and availability quickly shortened. Users are now empowered to get their own data – some create their own and others have their data delivery automated.

What is the key to success?

Visionary organizations look within for fundamental transformation and bringing the behavioral shift that would make them leaders and frontrunners. Traditionally, healthcare organizations begin with digitalization projects of health records and their KPIs, but this is where SKMCA stood out, and the Cerner team at SKMCA catalyzed the change. SKMCA realized early in the process that this is not just digitalization, but a bigger opportunity in pursuing this as the path to become a data-driven organization and having data drive its outcomes.

The outpatient department

The outpatient department (OPD) had achieved significant improvement in their performance by adopting this strategy, a project that began as digitalization of KPI measurement was transformed as an improvement program augmented by the OPD team, data insights and the process changes made based on these insights. SKMCA was able to achieve significant improvement from going up in the waiting timelines and was included as an example for improvement programming on SKMCA Quality Day.

The road ahead

SKMCA’s data journey is best summed up in the diagram below. The journey might look simple, but what makes it efficient is that it helps us break the traditional myth that organizations need big investments in tools, technologies to achieve outcomes. In reality, a simple viable approach with just the right amount of technology and strong leadership can drive the fundamental transformation of an organization. The road ahead for SKMCA looks very promising and this story of SKMCA gives us a lot of learning and the fact that Cerner are partnering with our clients can catalyze their journey, irrespective of the technology landscape with only what we have is not only encouraging but very satisfying. We went live with Cerner at the Rashid Centre for Diabetes and Research (RCDR) in late August, efficiently using the lessons learnt and successfully replicating the journey of SKMCA in RCDR. We have been able to significantly improve the timeframe to stabilize RCDR’s operational reporting and we are already seeing an upward trend at the facility, which is a tremendous partnership effort. As we mature, we will be taking these lessons and replicating in our clinical outcomes and financials to make SKMCA truly a data-driven organization in every step of decision making.