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April 10, 2019

Trend Lines

Years ago, a friend gave me a book, a book as beautifully named on the outside as it was on the inside.  It was ‘The Visual Display of Quantitative Information’ by Edward Tufte.  If you flinched at that title, I understand…most people would.  But I leaned in and thus began my journey of becoming an arm-chair charts and graphs nerd.

Now, I did not major in business because I hated Accounting I.  I opted instead for psychology.  So, it would not have been a smart bet in 1984 to predict that I would come to love data like I do now.  More specifically, I love the visual display of data (keep your pivot tables) because, when properly designed and displayed, one good chart makes the story in the data obvious to everyone.  Data, well presented, brings truth – good or hard – front and center.

I want to invite you to do such a truth-finding exercise for your practice. Here is the context for my suggestion to you…

The nature of our work and the ALN culture makes us data hounds.  Recently, some of our executive team were looking at some numbers for one of our clients.  We began to ask some questions, questions that moved from that client to our clients overall.  The line of inquiry was essentially around this big question – With all the macro changes in healthcare, which of our clients are doing better and which are doing worse?

That lead to my partner and I asking for a big historical data set for each of our clients – charges, payments, encounters, etc.  In came the pile of numbers, going back for several years.  Simple charts got created.  Thank you, Engineer at Microsoft, whoever you were, who added the trend line options to Excel years ago.

Then, we stepped back and looked at the pictures, letting the data, now able to speak, tell us the stories.  And sure enough, some of our clients are doing well, despite the industry challenges.  Their strategies and execution are being affirmed.  For others, unfortunately, the slow slide – hard to see without the appropriate long lens – points to a future at risk.

So, even if you get pretty good regular monthly reporting, if you have never (or not in a long time) taken a similar long view look at your metrics, you should.  Once a year, you should look back at least three years, though five might be better, at the big metrics that point to the health of your practice. 

Get your numbers, put them into some helpful charts, then gather all the right people into a room and look at them together.  Let the truth get on the table so you can then talk honestly about what you should do going forward. 

I’ll go so far in encouraging you to do this little exercise as to offer my help on the visualization if you need it.  Just drop me a line if I can help.  I promise this will be a valuable use of your time.

Tim Coan
Tim Coan

CEO and founder

Tim Coan, ALN’s CEO, writes an insightful and witty blog weekly about a variety of topics relevant to independent physician practices.