Centralised analytics not a panacea, says Bupa data chief

Toni Sekinah, research analyst and features editor, DataIQ

Nondas Sourlas, director of healthcare analytics at Bupa has worked with data for almost two decades and so has seen how the analytics industry has developed over the years. In the last five to seven years, he has noticed a trend of private data-related institutions setting one up.

"I worked with some of the highest quality healthcare data."

Sourlas knows the benefits. After he graduated from Harvard University with a master’s degree in statistics, Sourlas worked for NASA analysing space observatory data on quasars (extremely luminous, active, galactic nuclei) and black holes, but left after two years to enter the healthcare industry.

His first job in this sector was with the US Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) where he worked in one of its 19 centres of excellence. He said: “I worked there with some of the most complete and highest-quality healthcare data.”

doctor taking blood pressureWhen asked why the data was of such high quality, Sourlas responded that these specific centres were closed, highly regulated systems. The use of funds that came from the government, and ultimately the taxpayer, meant that it was important for a structure to be in place. The centres also had a high degree of autonomy. He said: “The VA has its own clinics, its own doctors, its own provisions and information. That level of integration along with the fact that it was public and highly-regulated facilitated the great quality of data to start with.”

"The centre of excellence became the gold standard within Bupa globally."

Sourlas then joined Bupa, an international healthcare group, and built an analytics function and ultimately a centre of excellence. “Along with my data and analytic experience, the business and healthcare expertise within the organisation meant we were able to move quickly in setting up an initial analytic function. Over the next few years, this function and the insights it produced became the gold standard within Bupa globally.”

Nowadays, the Healthcare Analytic Centre is part of a global team that sets data and analytic standards across the business. These range from common definitions and minimum data capture requirements to standard reporting and programmes to manage risk and potential fraud. 

Sourlas continued: “This company understands the value of analytics and it’s great to see the work of my team having an impact at every level. The analytic centre of excellence provides everything from guidelines on pricing models and contracting principles to coding structures and IT infrastructure.”

Doctor seeing patient at deskThere are several other benefits. “You do get some money dedicated for a particular purpose – finding research or business-related methods, and that focus helps.”

"You bring people together with similar interests."

Another advantage is the concentration of talent, as working within a centre of excellence gets people to work towards a common goal. “You bring together people with similar interests to do a similar type of work that they do together in a group,” he said.

He found this way of working less challenging than trying to coordinate efforts of data specialists working in different parts of an organisation. He explained: “A centre of excellence probably works a bit better than if you are spread out in different analytics teams. In that case, you need to align priorities and find out who pays for what.”

However, Sourlas was clear that centres of excellence are not the right solution for every organisation. He said: “I wouldn’t say that this is the panacea to everything. It’s not as simple as saying, ‘Everyone should have one’.”

That means asking the right questions before implementation. According to Sourlas, there are at least five that need to be considered. How do you set it up? Where do you set it up? How do you fund it? How centralised do you make the centre of excellence? How do you leverage it for different parts of the company?

Working within this type of framework has been beneficial for Sourlas. He said: “At the end of the day, I think there is value from it and that’s why people are trying to figure it out.”

Knowledge-based content manager, DataIQ
Toni is the senior features editor responsible for the origination of DataIQ's interviews, articles and blogs.