Analytics in Action

Analytics in Action Podcast: Dr. Raj Karnani, Predictive Health Analytics Expert

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Odds are the end of summer brings to mind thoughts of vacations, breaks from school, and possibly pouring your design aesthetic into some sculptures in sand.  For us at ThotWave, we take this time to hit pause on our monthly ThotWebinar series and instead interview some Data Champions fighting the good fight in the wilds of healthcare.  Here we explore how those data champions make analytics ‘go’ in the trenches of healthcare so that patients receive a more effective, efficient, and higher quality experience.   Dr. Monica Horvath, ThotWave’s Director of Health Intelligence, had the good fortune to speak with Rajil M, Karnani, MD MSPA, who recently joined QuintilesIMS as a Senior Consultant in Predictive Health Analytics.

Dr. Karnani is a subject matter expert in predictive analytics in healthcare, as well as a physician with a medical foundation in academic medicine. His expertise includes analytical and statistical decision-making; project development and management; and education and training. His focus is working with healthcare data to gain actionable insights in the areas of population health management, value-based care, and patient experience management.


MH: What is your perspective on healthcare analytics?  

RK: I am both an academically trained physician and an expert in predictive analytics in healthcare. While my experiences in academic medicine serve as a strong professional base in both quality improvement and physician integration, I have further experience in utilizing the various statistical methodologies to develop predictive models on a variety of topics.

My objective really is to use my predictive analytics skills and my medical knowledge as a physician to help advance patient care. This can be done by influencing the systems and processes focused on improving things like quality, safety, efficiency, and cost, all within an integrated healthcare delivery network designed to deliver value-based care at a population level.


MH:  What led you to incorporate healthcare analytics into your medical training?

RK: Over the last several years of my medical practice, I’ve been serving as a clinician educator for medical students and residents. During this time I’ve seen another side of health care and realize that it’s one patient at a time and one learner at a time. Conversely, I’ve found that with predictive analytics I would have the ability to help entire populations regarding healthcare quality and cost. The desire to have a greater impact is something I find very exciting. Additionally,  I’ve always had an affinity for math and statistics, and I think being involved in analytics allows me to use that affinity to tackle important problems in healthcare.


MH:   Does being a physician help in understanding analytics?

RK: Expert physicians are very good at pattern recognition.  In other words, they can see the symptoms and signs that go with particular diseases. There are so many patterns in our industry that often times as physicians we don’t think about the fact that we recognize patterns. In analytics, I am analyzing, quantifying, and explaining the relationships between those patterns I’ve seen throughout my career.


MH:  How did you get started?

RK: I chose the Masters of Science and Predictive Analytics program at Northwestern for several reasons.  Most importantly, the program put an emphasis not only on analytics but also on the communication skills side– working with leadership to embrace analytics. An analyst can be great with numbers, but if you don’t have the ability to communicate the meaning behind those numbers to the decision makers, then the effort may not get the results you want.

Another reason I chose the program is the strong focus on the practical usage of material rather than just the theory behind analytics. The faculty had real-world experience within the analytics industry outside of Academia, and I was able to discuss with them common challenges and best practices that they have encountered in their own careers. I found that to be very helpful.


MH: What do you wish every provider could understand about analytics?

RK: There is no need to fear analytics, as it is not a replacement for clinical judgment. Much like the latest MRI scan and other medical technology, analytics is simply another tool that you can use to make better decisions.

The essence of medicine is making the diagnosis and choosing the treatment plan, but with so much information it’s not always easy to do, and this is a tool that will assist in those situations. In the end, it’s always going to be human beings making decisions, not a computer.


MH: What were the challenges you faced in incorporating analytics into your work?

RK: The hardest thing is convincing people that physicians can make a contribution to medicine outside the exam room. As a physician and a predictive analytics professional, I feel I have an advantage. I’m able to understand both the numbers and the context of problems so when I have discussions with my colleagues I can explain to them what the analytics are all about.


MH: How do you encourage other physicians in learning more about analytics?

RK: It’s not always easy to get physicians to embrace new things. I have noticed that physicians like to know how they are doing, and when you can present them with data to let them know how they’re doing and caring for patients, they use that data to get better. Physicians in varying degrees are competitive by nature.  We need that to make it through the education and training. If you can present information that gives a reasonably good indication of how they’re doing it’s almost like a scoreboard. Physicians want to know what their score is and eventually, they will take that information, internalize it, and start working on ways to improve their performance.


MH: Based on your experience, where are some of the biggest opportunities for frontline clinicians to become more effective in using analytics solutions?

RK: Some of the biggest obstacles to implementing analytics are going to be leadership and adoption by physicians regarding comfort level. Healthcare is already very data driven, so creating user-friendly data dashboards that feature information physicians truly want to know will be the biggest opportunity.


MH: How can data analysts work better with the providers at deploying analytic solutions?

RK: Being an analyst and a physician who’s caring for patients; I think that ensuring data is logical, intuitive, and accessible for end users is really big. Physicians are bombarded with information everywhere.  So if we have to take a lot of time to really understand the numbers, then we’re really not going to do it.  However, if we can see answers easily and quickly, then it creates a better opportunity for us to get used in decision-making.  The key to finding a way to get the data analysts and the physicians to work together it’s realizing the need for a team effort


MH: In closing, what you’re looking forward to in healthcare analytics this year?

RK: I’m excited to see that more organizations are looking into analytics and trying to understand its value. I’m trying to build that bridge between what physicians do as clinicians and what the data analyst do. The possibilities for healthcare analytics are enormous, and it’s an exciting time.


Thanks Dr. Karnani for taking the time to chat with us!  To listen to the whole interview, click here: