What does healthcare business intelligence (healthcare BI), mean for you? More importantly, why should you use it?

You’ve probably heard of the term business intelligence, especially from us. By itself, it usually refers to a few different types of technology. Data warehouses that compile and standardize data, visualization tools that help report on data during specific points in time, and tools that help you drill down on data sets to answer business questions in real time.

Business intelligence in healthcare, then, is the use of that technology in the healthcare field. It’s the analysis and display of hospital or medical service data warehoused in multiple company systems. Primary activities that must be undertaken during a business intelligence project include identifying the right hospital KPIs to measure, cleaning, scrubbing and meta-tagging healthcare data to line up with the KPIs to measure, and then displaying it visually using software like Tableau, Microsoft Power BI, Domo, or Qlik.

In this article, we’ll be focusing more on the use of dashboards in healthcare BI to manage cost, budgeting, forecasting, and revenue of an entire hospital network for a “top 5” provider. Why? Well, just look at the facts.

Business intelligence in healthcare can be used to analyze and measure every business unit of hospital operations. Healthcare BI can play a part in measuring everything from intensive care units such as coronary care, neonatal intensive care, and surgical intensive care, to non-intensive care units such as oncology, rehabilitation, and long-term care. In total, implementing business intelligence to these and other healthcare units could save the industry up to $450 billion annually, according to an article from the McKinsey Global Institute a few years ago.

We’ll let it sink in for a minute.

Maybe it’s better to share a specific example of those kinds of savings. Take the case of the Washing State Heath Care Authority. Like many healthcare organizations, they faced overuse and overcrowding of their ER departments leading to thinning staff and care costs. With the use of an individually-tailored business intelligence project, the organization wrangled patient data to identify frequent patients and share their data across multiple hospitals.

This wrangled and enriched data was then used to improve patient care both in the emergency room and out of it. Hospitals could tap into one organized and enriched well of data in the form of a business intelligence project that let them track and review patient data, including prescription information and frequency of ER visits. By formulating a clearer picture of their patients, hospitals could tailor their care specifically and reduce the number of visits. The result as of fiscal year 2013 was over $33 million in savings for emergency care costs.

And that’s just one case study out of an entire field of work!

Since we might have bowled you over with those numbers, let’s take baby steps on our way to understanding healthcare BI and dashboards that can streamline hospital cost for finance operations and CFOs.

Wrangling big data to understand healthcare metrics better

What makes a good healthcare BI project? It’s all about the data, friends. We’re not talking just any old data, however. Sure, your business probably has crazy amounts of data available.

Trust us though, the hospital operations data you have now is almost useless by itself. It’s raw and messy, with no standardization or richness in sight. Take for example the simplest form of data in a healthcare facility, the electronic medical record (EMR). Now, you know this is basically the digital-age version of a paper medical record, but while convenient, have you ever thought if it could seriously help your healthcare BI dashboard needs?

Nothing wrong with saying no. Even the best need some help from time to time, after all! The problem is that EMRs might just not be standardized, with many facilities building their own kind of system. Things get more confusing when you add the inclusion of personal health records that patients might build themselves. Those could have data from everything from personal notes to modern wearables such as Fitbits. Data like that doesn’t help you because it doesn’t translate into any of the benefits of dashboards in healthcare.

With our help though, we can take it and make it something greater. Something that will eventually look like this:

In this healthcare dashboard snapshot, we see that this hospital’s discharges tend to concentrate around the Southwest and Great Lakes region of the United States. Going by the rest of the data, these discharges can be assumed to be paid by an HMO PPO.

Above you can see a healthcare dashboard snapshot featuring the performance of all branches of one hospital.

Though we were lucky to work with a single organization that had a nationwide presence, you can still see the benefits of dashboards in healthcare in the image above. Specifically, we used that dashboard to visualize the performance of hospitals around the country, focusing on discharges per region and discharges per payer. A dashboard like this one acts as a perfect start to a larger healthcare BI dashboard. It shows an easily-digestible amount of data and gives executives an idea of how to drill down further.

Just this healthcare dashboard alone can answer a few important questions. Which region has the highest/lowest concentration of discharges? What payers are contributing most to hospitals overall? How many ER visits happen throughout my healthcare organization in total?

Simple questions? Maybe, but they are no less important. Of course, there are deeper benefits to a healthcare dashboard.

Benefits of healthcare dashboards and operational business intelligence visualizations in hospital networks

The key word here is intelligence. Effective healthcare dashboards come with the kind of intelligence that allows you to drill down and through data and get to the source of what your healthcare BI project is telling you broadly.

Unlike a static, Excel-only report, a healthcare dashboard can show real-time, fresh, and relevant data. Investing in dashboards is therefore extremely important if you’re looking for benefits such as the following.

  1. Transforming underutilized and unstructured hospital data into BI assets that drive financial decision making and results. By wrangling the right kind of healthcare data, you can see facts about your business that you might never have known otherwise. For example, take something as simple as discharges and break it down into specific categories. Specifically, you can use the data provided by your healthcare dashboard to potentially reduce the number of readmissions your hospital sees. A study from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) noted that costs associated with patients readmitted within 30 days reached $41.3 billion. You can mitigate that cost by using the data analytics inherent in healthcare BI to track patient data and pinpoint the most high-risk patients and screen for the most likely conditions responsible for readmissions such as behavioral or mental health issues.
  2. Operational healthcare BI reporting in real-time instead of waiting for monthly manual analysis. You’ve wrangled all the data you needed to. You’ve gone even deeper into it and pushed meta tags down to deeply buried data. What, then, is the ultimate reward for all your work? Well, it’s simple, but ultimately revolutionary. With hard work, comes the satisfaction of creating dashboards that can update in real-time. Instead of spending precious work hours (and money) creating analysis for monthly reports manually, you can input new data into your healthcare business intelligence dashboards and let the BI do the work for you. Faster, cheaper, and, as you’ll see, more accurate.
  3. Increased accuracy of hospital operations reporting. Let’s be honest, there’s a reason the phrase “human error” exists. While we’re sure that your employees are top notch, the fact remains that constant manual reporting can leave room for plenty of mistakes. We don’t have to tell you how bad it would be base a key part of your hospital’s care strategy on faulty data. That’s a recipe for missteps and increased costs due to reworking those mistakes. Instead, a locked in healthcare dashboard removes the possibility of human error. Just because we talk about non-technology improvement, doesn’t mean we’re anti-technology. We know that locked in dashboards offer secure and accurate reporting that will save you both time and money.

Tracking hospital metrics in real-time with healthcare business intelligence dashboards

A healthcare dashboard is simply an analytical tool that displays any type operational data that you throw at it. It’s an easily digestible way to display data from multiple data sets. But you must standardize the data in a way that makes sense first. Not only do individual hospitals have access to electronic health records, the federal government has made it easier to access clinical trial and insurance data as well.

As we’ve mentioned, every hospital has its own set of EHRs for each of its patients. As you are no doubt aware of, these records encompass the entire set of information a patient has within a hospital. Conveniently, if you’re an executive working with multiple hospitals under one company, then those EHRs are more than likely uniform. This makes it easier to compile your data, as you’re starting from a common format. The state/federal information might be harder.

Across the country, state governments and the federal government maintain several different databases of medical information. You might be familiar with the National Program of Cancer Registries (NPCR) from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). It’s basically a registry of registries, bringing together data from local registries nationwide that includes patient history, diagnosis, treatment, and status. These kinds of databases are important because they give your healthcare BI dashboards access to a larger set of data. Depending on your reporting goals, you could cross reference government data with your own to create a clearer picture of your patients. More importantly, they’re more opportunities for finding the right kind of data you need to better your healthcare business intelligence project.

Because of the variety of healthcare public and private data available, dashboards can visually track KPIs (key performance indicators; you’ll hear more about those in a bit) and other business intelligence factors across a wide range of healthcare processes. If you’ve got the data to crunch, dashboards can show things such as patient trends, budget performance for specific departments, rate of certain tests, and more. You can use them to travel back in time and see how long, historically, patients have stayed at a hospital. Why would you look at that healthcare metric? Well, it could open your eyes to potential operational improvements in the admission-to-discharge pipeline.

The interplay between a healthcare dashboard and your hospital’s admission-to-discharge pipeline is potentially beneficial to you, your hospital, your staff, and patients themselves. By selecting the right KPIs, you can drill down into the specifics of what goes into a patient’s stay in your hospital. You can identify potential problem areas that could affect the discharge process, such as quality of care and number of staff available, and use this information to correct any dips in the process. The result? Happier, and healthier, patients, and cost savings for you and your hospital thanks to faster discharging times.

The benefits of business intelligence in healthcare are in many ways tied to the effectiveness of your dashboards. If bad data goes into your BI, you get bad dashboards on the tail end. That’s why it’s important to start with the end goal of the dashboards in mind before you attempt to make any. Determine the business issue you want to measure and address before you go trolling through data.

How to create a healthcare business intelligence dashboard

We wish we could tell you that good healthcare dashboard design springs out of the ground ready to be used. Sadly, that’s not the case. On the contrary, dashboards of all stripes depend on two things: proper front-end KPI selection and data preparation. Good news is, you won’t have to worry too much about the program you use to create the dashboard. The heavy hitters – your Power BIs, Tableaus, and Qliks – they’re not all that different where it counts. Of course, that means more pressure is put on your KPI choices and data structures. Selecting the right KPIs determines the outcome of you BI initiative.

Healthcare KPIs. Key Performance Indicators. We’ve talked about them before, quite extensively. You can find our in-depth series here. Basically, healthcare KPIs are numbers or ratios that measure how effectively a hospital department, group, process or individual is meeting defined goals and objectives. For your hospital or healthcare business, you’d be looking at KPIs such as the Average Patient Length of Stay or Average Emergency Room Wait Time. You can find those and other healthcare metrics and KPIs in one of our KPI Encyclopedia, here.

The key here is knowing what you want to measure ahead of time. KPIs don’t grow on trees, after all. A healthcare dashboard project requires forethought, which is where step 2 comes in.

A successful step 2 means sourcing hospital operations data you think you need internally. It’s not as simple as inserting data set A into slot B though. All the data sets you want to use must be manually analyzed to see if they’re even useful for the KPIs you want to measure. Yes, sometimes it feels like finding a needle in a haystack, but this data wrangling is integral to a getting the full benefits of dashboards in healthcare.

Luckily for you, we’re experts at this kind of data work. You can ready more about those services here. Have a custom job? No problem, we do that too.

Real healthcare business intelligence dashboard examples from real clients

Let’s face it, not every healthcare dashboard will be focused on KPIs that deal with patients. Sometimes operational issues that impact the bottom line need to be explored in depth. Even hospitals have a board of directors.

The following dashboards were designed by us here at OpsDog after working with the client, a hospital with locations nationwide. You guessed it, it’s the same hospital from earlier. Like all our dashboard, we created it with Power BI. Remember though, the technology isn’t particularly important; we just use Power BI for its simplicity and popularity.

Seen in this healthcare dashboard example is a pie chart and line graph that show a healthcare organization’s revenue shortfall compared to the original forecast.

Healthcare BI dashboards such as this one help visualize trends in the cost of different departments and services in a hospital.

Dashboards allow for easy-to-follow visual representations of important data, such as the relationship between your target revenue and your actual revenue.

Healthcare BI dashboards like the example above allow you to visualize current trends in your business such as actual and target revenue.

Healthcare data can be used to consider future implications of hospital revenue trends. Predictive analytics, while not the focus of these healthcare dashboards, is possible with the right use and output of business intelligence. You could conceivably use the dashboard above as part of a larger data wrangling project that could lead to predictions on future budgetary conditions of individual hospitals, regions and even specific doctors. .

The result? A healthcare dashboard that is uniquely equipped to help you plan out accurate future budgets. Healthcare costs are rising and pressure keeps mounting to reduce costs without reducing the quality of care.

Healthcare BI provides real-world benefits to patient care

 Sure, every hospital wants their bottom line to improve, and you’re no different. Of course, you wouldn’t forget about the patients, right? Of course not, we knew you wouldn’t.

“But how does a number-intensive process such as healthcare business intelligence help my patients?” You ask.

It’s all about the scope of the data that you want to analyze. Use the healthcare metrics you’ve gathered prior to rolling out business intelligence and apply them to the real world. Having some trouble visualizing these benefits of business intelligence in healthcare? Don’t worry, we have you covered.

We’ve talked before about the how much data the healthcare industry works with. Patient data is one aspect of that. By wrangling that big data, and visualizing it with dashboards, you can create useful pictures of individual patients.


  1. Reduced redundant tests. One example of a great use of big data in healthcare is eliminating redundancy. Don’t you hate it when you go your own doctor or hospital and you find yourself taking tests that all seem to do the same thing? We’re sure you find it annoying when your own healthcare facility does it. It’s a waste of resources for you and does nothing to improve your patient’s stay. Not only that, redundant testing can also be a safety hazard to your patients. A study in the journal Health Affairs found that one of the sources for unsafe care in hospitals included redundant tests ordered by different doctors. The math speaks for itself really: the same study found that eliminating redundant tests could save the American health industry $8 billion dollars. You’re not going to find those kinds of savings without working the data though, which comes with its own set of issues, as we’ve said. Through healthcare BI, though, you can merge all the data for a specific patient into one system. More than likely, you’d be using your facility’s electronic health record software. The key here is that by merging patient data makes it easier for doctors to use an EHR to view patient records. When they’re with the patient, a doctor can see all tests and treatments already administered. Getting rid of repeat testing makes everyone happy. Your facility saves money, patients don’t have to deal with redundant tests, and doctors are free to care for patients more effectively. In many ways, this is a key importance of business intelligence in healthcare.
  1. Personalizing care. Let’s look at the small picture for now. Sure, healthcare BI is a great way to look at your business, but it can also offer a personal touch. New technologies are making it easier for you to access individual patient data, and you can always count on us to wrangle that data when you need us to. With access to personalized data comes the ability to run that data through a healthcare business intelligence Part of care includes giving your patients the data they need to make informed decisions. Anyone experienced in the healthcare industry knows one aspect of this is talking with customers about their medical data and making appropriate decisions, but healthcare BI can help personalize another, more surprising, aspect: cost trends. By relaying information in an easy to digest visualization, a healthcare dashboard becomes an invaluable tool between staff and patients to convey the cost of treatment. Both staff and patients can use the same healthcare dashboard, which ensures that communication remains clear. Ultimately, what you want to see is this information being used to help patients make the right decisions in their care. The result of all this? A more complete picture of a patient’s needs and concerns. One of the benefits of business intelligence in healthcare is that it increases both access to individual patient data and opportunities to analyze that data. The day may come when healthcare BI will make individual treatment regiments the norm over today’s broader, one-size-fits-all treatments.

The use of big data in healthcare is just going to become more common as time goes on. Now more than ever, you need to be ready to take the road of healthcare BI and dashboards. Ready to see what your project looks like? Give us a call and take the first step.