Opinion

Tolkien and State Data

Like a modern-day Rip Van Winkle, I returned to the claims analytics industry in 2017 after a decade-long hiatus. Unlike Rip Van Winkle, I recently discovered that nothing has changed about the fascination that health system executives have with “state data”.

State data is the all-encompassing term for whatever data a state requires the hospitals in that state to report as a condition of their membership in the state hospital association. The value of a state hospital association is most eloquently summarized in the opening verses of Ecclesiastes, but the acquiescence of healthcare executives to the siren song of bureaucrats who compel the disclosure of discrete data elements for some unknown public policy purpose is undeniable.

In J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy Lord of the Rings, Gollum had an enduring fascination with the Ring, allowing the Ring to consume his every waking moment, ultimately leading to his demise. If Tolkien were to write a trilogy about healthcare executives, he would undoubtedly realize that the corollary to the Ring would be “state data”, and I suppose that I would be Tom Bombadil.

If you have ever reviewed the raw file that hospital associations compile from the submissions of the hospitals in that state, then you would understand that utilizing a state data set to develop growth strategies is as useful as studying Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth, although much less interesting. And yet, hospital executives treat state data as their “precious”, the standard against which all other data is measured. Assuming that state data sets were remotely accurate, it begs the question as to why anyone would develop a strategic plan based on data that attempts to summarize less than 50% of (unprofitable) revenue and volume.

Tom Bombadil was impervious to the power of the Ring, while Gollum perished as a result of his fascination with the Ring. The same fate awaits health systems whose strategies are based on state data.