Have you ever said, “I didn’t see it coming” or felt you were “drowning in data”? Do you use data to validate your actions or define your future strategies? Whatever the case, welcome to “Analytically Speaking,” a new column designed to tackle challenges through data-driven analysis.

Whether trying to improve care, survey or financial outcomes, or reduce staff turnover and high-risk areas, this column will help you be measurably successful.

It’s perplexing that, until recently, the concept of using data to make key decisions would have had some people ducking for cover.

The Accountable Care Act (ACA) and many other healthcare reform initiatives require that providers demonstrate they’re achieving excellent outcomes in an environment of cost containment. It’s not enough to have good quality measures or survey results; you also must have solid resident satisfaction scores — all in a cost-controlled environment. Moreover, it makes good business sense to have data that proves how good you are. Companies that invest in advanced analytics outperform the S&P 500 on average by 64%, according to the September issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Rehospitalization is another example of how we need to tell our story through data. So much costly waste and potential harm occurs when our residents have unplanned rehospitalizations. Yet we still struggle to produce the data that our acute care counterparts require, and produce what we need for authentic quality improvement.

Start simply, but start now. Begin by doing an assessment of your “data house.” Ask yourself: What types of data do we collect? Is it accurate and does it have integrity? Does it hold up to an independent audit? It’s no longer enough to leave work feeling good about what you’ve accomplished; you also need to be able to empirically demonstrate your accomplishments.

Remember that being analytical is not being cold and callous. It’s simply using data to make excellent decisions that benefit both the resident and our greater society.

Steven Littlehale is a gerontological clinical nurse specialist and former university instructor.