You know that feeling, when you're listening to someone talk about how the future is going to look, the possibilities they see, and the things they're going to achieve, and it seems like they must be living on a different planet?
In the pre-pandemic days, you might have looked around the room, trying to see if anyone else looked bewildered. Nowadays, maybe you're looking around the other Zoom screens, trying to see if anyone else realizes that someone managed to call in from Mars.
I get that feeling a lot when I hear presentations about all the things that community agencies need to start doing with their data - because I know how many folks are still struggling just to get basic information out of their data systems.
So many agencies would love just to know:
How many individuals do they serve? What are the most common diagnoses they're seeing? Have those things changed over time?
Are more people coming in than usual? Is the frequency of services changing? What's the average length of stay? How often are folks re-admitted into services?
Who's falling through the cracks? Do those folks with challenges have anything in common? Are certain access points or intake processes working better than others?
Far too many agencies can't answer these questions, even though staff members are diligently entering that data into their Electronic Health Record system.
That's why I sometimes feel like the people who are talking about using Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning and fancy data tools like that must be living on another planet.
Even if they're not actually on a different planet, they're clearly operating in a different part of the health care system - one that has more resources, and better access to organized data.
Most community mental health and substance use treatment agencies have limited resources and complicated data.
So what can we do? How do we make data more available to more agencies and to the people you serve?
I think we start with the basics. You deserve a clear picture of the work you do and the people you serve. We make sure you can tell if things are going okay, and you have plenty of warning if things are not going well. We don't want you to live in fear of having to close your doors! That's the first step.
Next, we use data to close the gaps in processes. We figure out where things aren't working and we make it easier for clinicians and the people you serve to connect. Sometimes this might mean dis-aggregating data to find specific pockets of need.
Finally, we use data to identify opportunities for improvement. We use data to measure and demonstrate the value of your services. And we use data to help you build a better system. That's when fancy stuff like AI and Machine Learning might be helpful.
Every leader deserves to live on a planet where data works for you.
Sometimes it can feel a little bit like Mission Impossible, but I think it is possible that a solid, easy-to-use system of organizing meaningful information could transform our system and change the world.
I've decided to accept that mission, and I hope you will join me!