It is 11:23 PM on a Tuesday night at the emergency department of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. It has been an unusually calm night with only three patient boxes occupied, and most of the staff is watching a new Netflix show on the largest monitor of the coffee corner. Suddenly, the ambulance beeper goes off, alarming the night shift that an unstable patient is on his way with heavy abdominal pain. Upon arrival at the hospital, the internal medicine resident examines the patient and discovers clinical signs of an acute abdomen with fever, a high pulse, and low blood pressure. Inflammatory markers are high and infectious signs are unmistakable. The resident suspects a bowel perforation and calls the radiologist for additional medical imaging. The CT scan shows a perforated diverticulitis with abscesses in the lower abdomen, indicating a left colonic resection with a stoma (known as a Hartman procedure). The resident contacts the surgeon on call, a general surgeon specialized in hepato-pancreatic surgery. The last time the surgeon did a left colonic resection was four months ago… Luckily, the patient doesn’t know, and to be fair, this is a procedure every general surgeon should know. But is this (still) true?
The case described above is a fictive but realistic scenario. I have seen it with my own eyes. I have assisted surgeries with surgeons who were not optimally qualified for the procedures they were performing. Leading with people analytics made me reflect on the enormous potential the novel analytical discipline could have within healthcare organizations and delivery in general.
In healthcare, there is a significant information asymmetry (i.e. the physician has more or better information than the patient). When a patient arrives at the hospital, you actually don’t know who will treat you. What is their expertise, what are they good at, what are their colleagues good at? How many procedures did they perform before you? Imagine that an algorithm could help a patient find the right physician, and conversely, an algorithm could find the right patient for the physician.
Would our patient still want the surgery at night if the algorithm would recommend someone else? Or maybe the patient would like to wait till the next morning and choose the more experienced surgeon. Of course, every case is different, and sometimes, there is just no time to wait. But data-driven decisions in medicine are, in my opinion, still scarce. The question is not if people analytics will be used in healthcare. The question is when and to what extent?
In the article “How People Analytics Are Helping Healthcare Firms Increase Profitability“, the CEO of Arena Analytics explains how the company applies predictive analytics and machine learning to talent acquisition challenges in the healthcare sector. This is people analytics in its most modest form, which is a data-driven hiring process in hospitals. However, the full potential of people analytics in healthcare is yet to be unlocked! I envision various potential exciting applications ranging from selecting the right teams to perform complex procedures, to selecting the best night workers and the best day workers for an emergency department. Hiring the right professionals for your healthcare facility is one thing, data-driven clinical decisions based on people analytics (or physician analytics) is another. Data-driven decisions in medicine are the future, and it is time to jump on the train of innovation before it’s too late.
Whitler, K. A. (2016, January 14). How people analytics are helping healthcare firms increase profitability. Forbes. Retrieved April 18, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimberlywhitler/2016/01/14/how-people-analytics-are-helping-healthcare-firms-increase-profitability/?sh=e953e92a5936
Dr. Gauthier Willemse graduated Magna Cum Laude from KU Leuven Medical School. He devoted the past four years to surgical training during which he also published scientific articles and presented research at conferences on international surgical training. Gauthier was born in Brussels, Belgium to an internationally-minded family. A polyglot, Gauthier cultivated a global mindset and gained extensive medical expertise in low- and middle-income countries. These experiences sparked a deep passion for social advocacy, which led to the co-founding of Residents Abroad, an organization facilitating international opportunities for care workers. Until July 2021, he acted as the medical coordinator of the largest COVID-19 vaccination center in Belgium. He has medical experience in Belgium, Burkina Faso, Brazil and speaks Dutch, French, English, Spanish, Portuguese, and German fluently. Gauthier is a Fulbright scholar and a current MPH student at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health where he focuses on innovations and entrepreneurship in healthcare.