Make Your Dumb Data Smart

ESO Staff

In an industry that is exceptionally efficient at creating data points, the sheer amount of information available can be daunting – and even counter-productive – to those in the EMS industry looking to improve important aspects such as response time, quality, and outcomes.  

Dr. Scott Bourn, PhD, RN, FACHE and ESP Senior Quality Consultant recently shared his decades’ worth of perspective from the pre-hospital side of health care, and on into the world of quality control. In his webinar, “Make Your Dumb Data Smart,” Bourn recalled the days of his early career, where EMTs recorded patient information on NCR forms, paper records with 5-part carbon copies that were then distributed to various teams on the health care continuum. These records were easy to initially fill out and update, but a pain to share, access, and analyze later. 

“If we were really honest, the information was virtually useless downstream,” explained Bourn. “Now in a world of electronic medical records, we have a different problem. We’ve flipped the switch and now have, in many ways, too much data. A great problem to have but we must be much more discerning.” 

The list of available data points and resources available to EMS agencies today is extensive and wide-reaching. From response time to demographics, hospital hand-off metrics and variables affecting inventory and cost, there is no shortage of ways to compare and contrast aspects of patient care. Bourn, however, suggests that members of EMS agencies should push themselves to see the bigger picture and take time to consider which information could truly be used to make improvements.  

Bourn shared an example in a different industry – the commercial trucking world – as an illustration of how revisiting how you are analyzing existing data can make a bigger impact in actionable improvements. Freightliner Trucks partnered with Detroit Connect to identify and monitor a select group of variables in its trucking fleet via onboard diagnostic monitors. Over the course of about four years, they worked to refine what information they monitored, how they were analyzing it, and how the responded to the results. This data had always been in existence in the trucks, but by simply utilizing it differently, Freightliner was able to identify areas for improvement, like improved in-truck dashboards, system monitoring for mobile devices, and safety advances like dashboard cameras and automatic braking systems. 

The same approach could prove helpful in the health care industry where numerous agencies collect and maintain huge amounts of data, but gaps still remain in how that information is shared and turned into actionable ideas. Bourn shared several tips that can help move EMS agencies in the direction of making their “dumb” data more “smart” and useful. For example: 

Uncouple types of data from the problems to which they have been traditionally attached. Look at the data you already are using or reporting, and brainstorm other areas, groups, or aspects of the agency that might be able to utilize the info. Keep an open mind and really think outside the box. If you are already reporting your CAD data, think about using that same info to inform your vehicle technicians and make real-world changes, like positioning your vehicles differently for faster response time, or better understanding specific neighborhoods. 

Take time to daydream and brainstorm about how things could be. What would your ideal data set tell you? What buckets of information are missing that could really change how you do things? Once you have those identified, start researching who has that information. You may be surprised at what is easily available from other agencies, organizations, and public health departments. 

Utilize best practices, like looking for trends rather than single data points. Be disciplined in your review of your data, and be sure to look for trends over time, rather than single data points. Otherwise your view of the attributes of your system could be greatly skewed and your changes will not make an impact. 

Connect with others who share your vision. Take the opportunities to connect with other agencies and network with peers to share information. This may mean digitally or it may mean setting up appointments and meetings to learn more about what others serving your same community know that you do not. Similarly, participating in user groups or attending sessions on data utilization at upcoming tradeshows can help keep the spark for improvement strong, and introduce you to even more ideas on making the most of your data. 

For additional tips and ideas of leveraging the data you already have, view the full webinar now.


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