Leveraging the Power of Data and Collaboration to Change Healthcare

January 24, 2020

Contributed Commentary By David Levine   

January 24, 2020 | At its core, the analysis and utilization of big data in healthcare has the power to give clinicians the tools they need to provide a higher level of value and care to their patients. The questions we find ourselves facing are how do we access this data, what is the right data, and how do we put it to real, actionable use.   

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a Congressional Briefing with Phillip K. Chang, MD, FACS, MBA, Chief Medical Officer at the University of Kentucky Healthcare and Patricia Garcia Sullivan, PhD, Chief Quality Officer at Penn Medicine, two of the top minds in the healthcare field, along with Congressman Brett Guthrie (KY-02).  

During the conversation, Drs. Chang and Sullivan shared how their institutions are utilizing data, quantitative analytics, best practices, and empirical metrics to drive real, measurable improvements to benefit their patients and communities. Through this spirit of collaboration, we discussed how we can amplify these “pockets of excellence” as Dr. Sullivan puts it and create a framework to affect real change across an ever-evolving healthcare landscape. 

Data, Policy and the Opioid Crisis 

As the briefing began, Congressman Guthrie, who represents Kentucky’s 2nd Congressional district, set the stage for the conversation as he provided insights on the value and importance that research and data play in helping him and his fellow legislative leaders make informed decisions regarding policy.   

The opioid crisis currently gripping the country is an area that Congressman Guthrie specifically pointed to as one where data analysis can provide real value. The University of Kentucky recently received a four-year $87 million grant with the goal of developing evidence-based solutions to the crisis and reduce the number of overdose deaths. These studies are critical, as they provide much needed information congress can use to pass policy, addressing the crisis in Kentucky and nationwide.   

On the front line of this work is Dr. Chang. He shared how his hospital system uses data to guide changes to its opioid-prescription approach and measures patient pain management satisfaction with the revised protocols. What they found is that often clinicians aren’t even aware of their own prescribing tendencies, or how they vary from their colleagues, and are eager for guidance on creating personalized and non-opioid focused approaches to pain management. 

At the University of Kentucky Healthcare system, doctors began offering multimodal pain management methods which include offering NSAIDS (i.e. aspirin, ibuprofen) and acetaminophen as the first line of treatment instead of short-acting/IV opioids. Doctors also implemented a new approach to educate and level-set with their patients about their pain expectations.  

 These changes were implemented and achieved remarkable results, including:  

  • 57% reduction in patients receiving high-risk regimens. 
  • 1,300 opioid prescriptions avoided annually.
  • 250,000 fewer pills dispensed. 

Furthermore, beginning January of 2020 as part of the grant and the University’s partnership with the Kentucky Hospital Association, 114 participating hospitals will begin sharing their data as part of the nation’s first “Statewide Opioid Stewardship” program.  

Leveraging the Right Data to Create Real Change 

Dr. Sullivan provided some keen insights on the management and utilization of data. Frontline physicians are the individuals who hold the keys to unlocking the potential of this data, so providing them with credible, transparent, and actionable data is critical. Yet we don’t want them to drown in said data. 

Dr. Sullivan shared how Penn Medicine is applying machine learning algorithms to that data, enabling them to predict, at a patient level, who is most at risk of developing complications or for readmission after discharge. Once an at-risk patient is identified, their doctors are notified and able to intervene as appropriate. Using a similar algorithm, they have developed another system to better identify when a patient is able to come off the ventilator, enabling them to do so about a day earlier than they would have without it.   

One thing I noticed throughout the discussion was the fact that doctors are hungry for data that they can believe in, will improve their patients’ outcomes, and make them better doctors. Most physicians believe that they are delivering excellent care and are shocked when they learn otherwise. As we wrapped up our Congressional Briefing, I discussed the importance of leveraging accurate, timely, and transparent data based on real-world information, such as those from the Vizient Clinical Database. This database gives physicians the ability to drill down and benchmark with peers and to identify performance improvement opportunities.  

Looking Ahead 

Throughout our lively and informative discussion, one word that kept coming up was “collaboration.” There is truth in the saying, especially in medicine, that “none of us is as smart as all of us”. As we look ahead to 2020, data and collaboration will continue to be powerful tools for hospitals to make measurable improvements to care delivery and outcomes. I challenge other hospital leaders to take the initiative to work with others, share your resources, and leverage data to change the healthcare world. 


David Levine, MD, FACEP, Group Senior Vice President, Advanced Analytics and Product Management, is responsible for driving numerous key initiatives for Vizient, including growing the Center for Advanced Analytics, leading the development of risk-adjustment methodologies and increasing the engagement of physicians and other clinicians. The Center brings together analytics from multiple clinical and operational offerings to provide insights to members across the continuum of care. Levine joined the company in 2010 after serving as medical director of the emergency department at John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago. He also served as a physician leader for information technology upgrades, including expansion of computerized physician order entry and documentation improvements. His background includes consulting for emergency departments and physician groups to optimize informatics, quality and compliance. Levine earned a doctor of medicine degree from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a bachelor of science degree in psychology from the University of Michigan. He is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Rush Medical School in Chicago and a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians. He can be reached at David.levine@vizientinc.com.