Key Learnings from our Conversations with Hospital Associations
By Megan Reeves
Given our history serving the nation's top healthcare organizations, assisting them in processing data and using it to make growth decisions, we have unparalleled insight into the data needs of hospitals of all shapes and sizes. We know what matters to end-users of the data collection process and we’re able to apply our knowledge to the process as a whole to make it easier, more efficient, and with an output that is better for strategic decision making.
In an effort to sharpen our understanding of state association needs and the state data aggregation process, we spent time connecting with associations across the nation. We wanted to learn more about the challenges they’re facing, and how we can better support their work.
What we heard in these conversations reinforced our long-standing understanding that state data is complex, and aggregation is challenging, with requirements differing by state.
The following are learnings we gleaned from these discussions, which covered a multitude of topics including partnerships, data types, release schedules, challenges facing members, and hopes for the future of hospital associations. We hope the insights gathered here highlight the hard work already being done, and some key opportunities for optimizing data in ways that would benefit both associations and their members.
Key Learnings1. Using data is hard.
Nothing about state data collection is one-size-fits-all. From state to state, data differs in a multitude of ways: fields collected, requirements, release schedules, data types, price to purchase data, documentation, and more. Many of the conversations with association leaders were anchored by the fact that members have a hard time using data. They need to have confidence in what they are seeing, and data needs to be packaged in such a way that all members can use it effectively, keeping in mind the small independent hospitals and the large national systems alike.
It’s common for data programs to touch a whole host of departments within a member facility. The teams submitting the data might not always know what the teams consuming the end product need, so when improving data programs, there is great utility in thinking through both the input and the output of data collection.
Additionally, it can be useful to think about skill level and data familiarity of member organizations. Though an analytics platform may be incredibly powerful, if it’s too difficult or cumbersome for all facilities to use, it doesn’t suit the needs nor does it increase the value members receive. Associations can help their members make data easier to use by partnering with companies with a focus on getting to wisdom faster.
2. Providing value to members is the goal.
Hospital associations are membership organizations. This means members are the lifeblood of the hospital associations; without members, there are no associations. Providing value to members is paramount in every way.
From the decisions made to the partnerships entered, associations are constantly driving the conversation toward increased engagement and member satisfaction. This push increases the relevance the association has in the lives of the member organizations.
When it comes to data, the role of associations is the same: to drive value. One of the best ways associations can do that is to work with any outside partner with specific expertise. Not only does that bring tangible, impactful resources to the membership, but it also allows the association to focus other efforts on the areas only associations can do. These are often areas like advocacy, government relations, and educational programs—areas where the association is uniquely qualified to advance the healthcare priorities of the state.
3. Many associations do not collect data; the Department of Health does. (And why this is a missed opportunity.)
Nearly every conversation we had was underlined with a common theme: hospital associations work closely with their state Departments of Health. We heard several examples of ways one organization was supported by the other, and the symbiosis of these relationships clearly led to successful outcomes.
In the case of data collection, though, it can be challenging for members when the data goes straight to the Department of Health. That’s because the data can be used for so much more than just what a Department of Health may require. If the data collected by a Department of Health is not put back into the hands of the organizations submitting it, an opportunity is missed.
Associations can help this by working with their state Department of Health to make that data available to members. In many cases, associations have actually set up a data program where participating facilities submit the data to the association, and the association then submits the data to the state. This helps hospitals with quality assurance and processing; it also gives the association an opportunity to give the data back to the participants faster.
Partnering with a data analytics company to employ their expertise in both collecting and using collected data can be of great benefit to associations and their members. Data analytics partners can take the data output, whether from a Department of Health or an association, and make it easy-to-use for member hospitals.
4. Long-lasting relationships are common, but may need to be reevaluated.
When asked how long associations have been partnering with their current vendors, a common response was “I’m not sure exactly, but over 10 years.” In multiple conversations, the partners and processes hadn’t changed in over 25 years. Some of those long-standing relationships remain fruitful because of institutional knowledge and years of built trust, taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach. Other relationships, though, were reported to have fallen into the “that’s how we’ve always done it” routine and may no longer serve members the way they once did.
In the ever-changing world of healthcare data, it’s important that programs geared at collecting and using data stay agile enough to meet today’s needs. Healthcare data is used differently today than it was even just a couple of years ago— just think about all the changes that COVID introduced!
The best practices we’ve seen in aiding transformational change always involve member input. Whether relying on a board of directors or surveying participating facilities, gaining member input directly contributes to the strength of the member relationships and the success of any transition.
5. Associations are often using multiple vendors for connected programs.
We were surprised to learn that many organizations that contract with a vendor for data collection also contract with a second vendor for data analytics software. While one vendor may meet the needs of collection, the same vendor may not provide robust or easy-to-use analytics software. The cost of maintaining multiple data vendors is, in many cases, passed onto members via increased fees, which poses challenges to member retention.
The benefits of a robust data program far exceed just meeting state requirements. Making data accessible and actionable to strategic planners is of the utmost value to member hospitals, and gaining access to actionable data through the association can drive member engagement. Selecting a data partner who can both collect the data and make it usable in a meaningful way is a benefit to association members.
Stratasan supports state data aggregation and analytics because we are experts in leveraging data insights for growth decision-making. That expertise puts us in a unique position to support the data needs of both associations and their member hospitals.
Through this process of interviewing and talking to associations, we’ve learned a great deal about the challenges many associations face and where we have the expertise to help. We’re grateful to the associations and association members who have worked with us to create better solutions for state data aggregation and analytics. We think that together, we can make state data aggregation and subsequent data analysis easier for everyone.
If any of the challenges outlined in this post were relatable to you, then we’d love to hear from you. Schedule a discovery call with one of our experts to learn more about how our offerings can support both association and member hospitals.
Article by Megan Reeves, VP of Association Partnerships