Opening Doors to Innovation and Collaboration (Part I)

by Trevor Strome on May 4, 2010

This is the first in a three-part series that explores how healthcare analytics is opening doors to unique collaboration opportunities that foster creativity and innovation.


I was participating in a research meeting at which there were an unusual set of participants, including a PhD epidemiologist, an Emergency Physician, and an Agricultural Meteorologist. We were discussing a project that involved sharing datasets, using tools, and applying analysis techniques that even a couple of years ago would have been impossible because the data was not available, or the tools to run the analysis were too expensive.

Although most healthcare research projects require data of some sort, adoption of Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics tools within healthcare is still in the early stages. Because of this, such systems are often considered merely tools for operational reporting. Yet when combined with a little curiosity, a spirit of collaboration, and a willingness to explore, the true potential of BI and analytics are revealed.

Boredom – One Cause of “Bad” Business Intelligence

It is my belief that that many BI projects (such as routine operational dashboard implementations) go from good to “not-so-good” because there isn’t much chance for creativity and to “push the envelopes” on such projects. BI developers should never be given the chance to think, “wouldn’t it be great to make that pie chart into 3D with a pastel gradient.” Not only is this bad design (in that it detracts from the information being conveyed), but it signals that a developer needs new challenges.

One potential source of new challenges for a BI team is collaboration.

Benefits of Collaboration

Collaboration doesn’t need to consist of large multiple-insitution investigations that must clear two levels of ethics committee and receive three major grants to see the light of day. Some of the most interesting collaborations begin with an idea sparked by a discussion between two colleagues in different fields or in different organizations on a topic of mutual interest. As more aspects of the healthcare system become computerized (i.e., Electronic Medical Records – EMRs), and as more BI systems are adopted, much more data is becoming available that is interesting to researchers and (perhaps more importantly) is being made more accessible via Business Intelligence. This increased data availability and accessibility increases the chances that cross-discipline collaborative ventures will have the “raw materials” with which to address any particular questions.

There are many potential benefits that collaborative efforts can bring to a healthcare organization. Such benefits include:

  1. Break from the routine. Collaborative projects (especially those involving cross-disciplines and/or multiple domains)  provide an opportunity to focus energies on a fresh topic and to take a break from regular activities while still being productive.
  2. Provides new angles/approaches to existing questions. People with an outside perspective often are able to provide new insight into a particular issue, or relate experience on how a similar issue was tackled or question was answered on another project.
  3. Identification of new research opportunities. Collaborators might help identify new areas for research and collaboration within the organization or unit, or may provide the opportunity to participate on projects outside the organization.
  4. Introduction of new skills/tools/techniques. It is often the case that when addressing novel questions or issues, additional skills and/or tools must be learned. Collaborative efforts may provide the impetus to expand the team’s knowledge base.
  5. Expands professional network. When working with others, the opportunity exists to add people with similar areas of interest to your professional network.


Not every collaboration will end up making a ground-breaking discovery, or even last beyond a single project. It is import, however, not to be afraid to try. When it comes to collaborative efforts, even failed ventures reveal valuable lessons learned to an organization. When collaborations are successful, the result can be a truly unique insight into the operations of an organization or of a clinical question that would have been difficult, if not impossible, to obtain without the team effort (and, of course, analytics).

The next post in this series will discuss things to consider prior to embarking on a collaborative venture.

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: