This article appears in the September 2012 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
In 1999, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates popularized the term "digital nervous system," which describes how technology could be used to let enterprises make better decisions faster, mimicking the autonomic nervous system of living organisms.
Today, leading healthcare organizations increasingly rely on their own digital nervous systems—improving the quality of care, sustaining operations, and ensuring profitability. With unprecedented transparency, the metrics of running a healthcare enterprise trigger rapid responses to all sorts of changing conditions.
Take, for instance, the Cleveland Clinic, a multispecialty academic medical center that handles 4.6 million patient visits a year. CFO Steven Glass knows that his organization requires constant awareness of key business indicators in order to stay on top of its game.
"I'm on the dashboards probably 320 days out of 365 days a year, and it's really a key way for me to pulse how the organization is actually performing," Glass says. "That includes volumes, occupancies, patient satisfaction, quality metrics, utilization, cost, all kinds of different classifications."
When Cleveland Clinic deployed its first dashboards eight years ago, they were "relatively basic, showing overall volume information in the organization," he says. "It's evolved drastically, to where now on our dashboards, we have information that's updated as frequently as every 30 minutes."
Why so often? "On a particular day we can be running at 95% occupancy, so we really need to understand that the house is full," Glass says. "It's critically important for executives across the organization. It is a way that, as the CFO, I know are we having a good month or a bad month.
"Long before you see revenue numbers and expense numbers, if you really know your business and you track it pretty closely, you can see where you've got trends in different parts of your organization," he says.
Glass says midway through the month, if he sees light volume in a unit, he will pick up the telephone to make sure expenses are being appropriately managed.
But the real key to today's business intelligence at an institution such as Cleveland Clinic is distributing the information gathered by the digital nervous system not just to top leadership, but to all those in the organization with a need to know.