CIOs have a potential new ally in the constant push and pull over unnecessary testing: consumers.
At least the considerable audience of Consumer Reports, which has just started reporting on the value and accuracy of cancer screening tests. With more results from Consumer Reports surely coming, CIOs have to decide just what they think of all this.
The first thing to note is that Consumer Reports didn't start a medical lab and start posting their own studies. What they've done is taken the data from the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). The USPSTF is run by the Department of Health and Human Services and Consumer Reports backed up that presumably good data with searches through leading medical journals.
The second thing you need to know is that Consumer Reports didn't think current cancer screening was very good. Of the 11 most common tests, only three got high marks, and then only for certain groups. The rest are considered either not very accurate, not cost effective, or both.
The fact that these tests are suspect isn't new. The medical community has known the data. But this is the first time the information has been aimed at consumers, and given the amount of media effort towards early detection, the information is, at the least, inconvenient.
And this is where the CIO becomes involved, because as usual they find themselves stuck between cultures.
If doctors have known these tests aren't very good, why do they keep making their patients get them? Chances are it is either to pad their bill or just to be sure they didn't miss something. Let's be kind and assume it isn't bill padding.
The doctor's job is to protect his patient and also to protect himself and the hospital from litigation from mistakes. The CIO's job is to use technology to cut down waste, cut costs, and build revenue for their hospital. See the problem?
You can either a) side with the patient, help spread this information, and get your doctors to stop running tests they don't need to be running, or b) bury it and keep your doctors happy.
Since we're all about the bottom line at E2, I'm going to assume you picked "a" and help you figure out how to use this to your advantage.
Big-data -- When trying to figure out where to prioritize spending, tie your big-data initiatives to tests that Consumer Reports and other advocacy groups cover before moving on to other tests. Both patients and doctors are prone to over-testing because patients want to always know they're OK and doctors want to avoid mistakes. If you track overuse of a test by a certain doctor or class of patients, Consumer Reports can be your ally. Readable media discussing why it isn't always helpful can help patients and doctors change their habits.
Marketing -- Once you make a dent in unnecessary testing, partner with your CMO (sadly, marketing is a major aspect of hospitals these days) to market yourself as a place that saves money for patients by eliminating tests. Transparency is a major aspect of hospitals going forward. Making sure your hospital is meeting the standard of care while avoiding surplus testing is a great way to make points as hospitals become more transparent.
Track savings and revenue closely -- One of the saddest problems about fewer tests is that it means lower revenue. Labs and tests are a cash cow. How will the CFO feel about you cutting back on tests? She'll love it if you can point to shorter lines or lower labor costs in your labs. She'll love it if you can track higher bed counts to increased reputation. If you can't, she's just going to see the numbers of her lab going down and blame you.
Of course, you can only do so much with Consumer Reports or any other advocacy information. Tracking the testing and procedure habits of your doctors will go much deeper. And sometimes, medical opinion will differ from consumer opinion. Big data and consumers can't trump medical opinion. But what you can do is use the data to help your doctors see habits and methods that might be hurting the hospital and help them make the decision to change. And you can partner with the consumer to empower them on their own healthcare. Media is just a small piece of the puzzle, but it can make a great ally, especially when paired with good data.