What hospitals can learn from Wall Street

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Wall Street values information over all else. For those who invest in stocks, access to information about businesses and their prospects and the ability to use it productively determine profit or loss, success or failure. Stakes are high, and only those who are well prepared and well informed succeed. As stewards of capital, Wall Streeters would be irresponsible and reckless if they were ill-equipped to make prudent decisions.

I started my career as an analyst at an investments firm. My analysis helped portfolio managers determine which stocks to bet for or bet against. To do so, I was given lots of tools, subscriptions to information services which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars annually. This wasn’t exceptional — rather, it was table stakes for my job.

The stakes for hospitals are much higher. Physicians and administrators are not only stewards of the health of their patients, they oversee the health of their communities. Poor allocation of resources puts the long term health of their communities at risk, which depends directly on the sustainability of their hospitals. With the majority of our hospitals operating at barely break-even or worse, solvency is seriously in question.

Every day, care providers must make a multitude of decisions about both how to diagnose and treat, but also for how to manage their hospital’s resources. They must choose how to treat a patient, whether surgery is necessary, which devices to use or drugs to prescribe, and when a patient can finally leave the hospital. They need to optimize both clinical and financial outcomes, to balance the well-being of the current patient with the system’s ability to care for the future patient.

The complexity of these decisions often surpasses those on Wall Street. More now than ever, hospitals need to make both prudent and rapid decisions. But all too often, hospitals enter the battle field without adequate arms. Despite best intentions, they buy the newest products and drugs based on a slick pitch from a sales rep without validating superior outcomes or value. They implant a Mercedes when a Ford would have been more than adequate. They over-operate and under-deliver.

Hospitals need to leverage information to adjust their practice for the future. Fortunately, just like on Wall Street, there’s a wealth of data out there to drive decision-making. Data that can guide care, compare resources, and directly improve both patient conditions and economics. Data that can mean the difference between life and death, both of a patient and the organization responsible for caring for that patient. It just needs to be valued appropriately.