Decision Support · Healthcare

What is Decision Support in Healthcare?

A decision support system (DSS) is a computer-based application that collects, organizes and analyzes business data to facilitate quality business decision-making for management, operations, and planning. A well-designed DSS aids decision makers in compiling a variety of data from many sources: raw data, documents, personal knowledge from employees, management, executives and business models. DSS analysis helps companies to identify and solve problems, and make decisions.

In order to answer the question What is Decision Support in Healthcare?

We must also understand the role it plays in the industry. New Healthcare Landscape Demands Improved Healthcare Decision Support. In this new environment, a health system’s success tends to depend on as much (or more) on its intellectual assets—the collective intelligence and innovative capacity of its people—as its physical assets. The challenge primarily becomes one of organizing and enabling the system’s intellectual assets rather than principally relying on the intelligence of those at the top. In addition, it becomes necessary to manage organizations both horizontally and vertically, rather than solely top to bottom.

Decision-making analysis was conducted by the Carnegie Institute of Technology in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) applied computer technology to decision-making theory in the 1960s. By the 1980s, intensive research on DSS was underway, and new theories and concepts emerged from single-user models of DSS, including organizational decision support systems (ODSSs), group decision support systems (GDSSs) and executive information systems (EISs). By 1990 DSS was broadened to include data warehousing and online analytical processing. Ironically while the industry spent billions of dollars converting to digital EHRs, executives still don’t have decision-making tools to harness data and manage the outcomes of their organizations. All too often leaders can still be unaware of what is happening within their systems and risk of being blindsided by unexpected challenges.

Senior leaders cannot do this alone. It requires a collective and collaborative effort by the entire organization. Accountability and execution tend to depend more on an agreement regarding a common compelling vision than command and control hierarchy. Executive leadership helps plan and coordinate activities that result in the creation of a compelling vision, allocates appropriate resources to achieve goals, and eliminates obstacles, all while relying on the organization’s knowledge assets—its people—to successfully innovate and execute on a strategy in pursuit of the vision. Throughout this process, the focus must be on speed, flexibility, and adaptability.

From a workforce perspective, healthcare is extremely fortunate—few industries have a workforce as talented, educated, and committed to serving the customer. A clear majority of clinicians (and non-clinicians) in every healthcare organization get up every day with the desire to be the best they can be for the patients they serve. Management’s goal must be to provide these staff with the training, tools, techniques, data, environment, and other forms of support they need to be successful in the quest for value. In this environment, leaders take on a very strong facilitating and enabling the role.

How, then, do healthcare leaders successfully manage this environment? There is no doubt that decision making becomes substantially more complex when done in an environment in which the beliefs and actions of entities inside and outside the organization help determine the (often unpredictable) outcome. Making good decisions in this environment requires improved healthcare decision support.

Health system leaders must be knowledge-based and data-driven. The entire organization must have the information necessary to make sense out of complex and unexpected situations. People must be able to analyze and improve the environment, mitigate risk, and reliably predict future behavior or results. Many decisions can only be made collectively and collaboratively because no one person has all the necessary knowledge. This requires an environment in which information and knowledge accumulate and are freely shared. It also requires advanced forms of decision support.