Data duty

From left, Tony Mirasola, ’16, economics and public administration, and Kyle O’Brien, ’09, finance and marketing, both work for the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Mirasola was hired at the WHA Information Center in October 2016 after learning about the career through O’Brien, who has stayed connected to UWL through the Alumni Association Board and the Heathcare Analytics Management Advisory Board.

Alum helps state’s rural healthcare leaders make informed decisions

One UW-La Crosse alumnus is helping dozens of rural hospitals across Wisconsin operate more efficiently.

In an age when data is king, hospitals can save a lot of money and improve service by digging into healthcare data. What procedures are they performing most often? Could they hire a new specialist patients have been traveling hundreds of miles in the other direction to see?

While these are important questions, a lot of rural hospitals don’t have the resources to find the answers. Enter UWL alumnus Tony Mirasola, ’16, an analytics and outreach specialist for the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center, who has been visiting rural hospital executives and their staff since he started the new position in October. He’s providing them with data consulting services and web tools to generate their own reports of statewide hospital discharge data. Understanding those reports can ultimately help executives make informed decisions on topics related to market share, services, charges and more.

“So many of these hospitals are in very rural, small towns. They are critical to ensuring patients continue to have access to healthcare,” explains Mirasola. “The Rural Health Dashboard Project ultimately allows these hospitals to evaluate their resources and make critical decisions.”

Jean Doeringsfeld, vice president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center, a subsidiary of the WHA.

Since Mirasola started, 28 rural Wisconsin hospitals have signed up to use federal grant money from the Wisconsin Office of Rural Health to get their healthcare data through the project Mirasola runs, the Rural Health Dashboard Project. That strong participation is telling of the project’s success and Mirasola’s efforts, says Jean Doeringsfeld, vice president of the Wisconsin Hospital Association Information Center, a subsidiary of WHA.

“Tony is a really great combination of someone with technical skill and also the personality we need to go out there and have these conversations with hospitals,” she says. “That’s the challenge of hiring these types of positions. A lot of times you can find someone who can make the product sing, but they can’t communicate well. Tony is a great balance.”

Meeting workforce demand

Mary Hamman, UWL assistant professor of economics.

The healthcare industry has a high demand for people like Mirasola who can analyze data and communicate it effectively, says Doeringsfeld.

Mary Hamman, UWL assistant professor of economics, has heard that sentiment from other state healthcare executives. Under the guidance of an 18-member advisory board made up of healthcare executives from Wisconsin and beyond, Hamman is developing a new minor in Healthcare Analytics Management.

Reasons for growth in this area include the digitization of medical records, which has created new opportunities for analyzing healthcare data that weren’t feasible when records were paper-based, says Hamman.

Also, as people continue to see a greater portion of their resources consumed by healthcare-related spending, healthcare companies need skilled employees who know analytics to figure out where better efficiency and outcomes can be gained, says Jeff Kessler, ’81, of Allergy Associates of La Crosse who also serves on the CBA Advisory Board.

“The pressure to find healthcare products and services that deliver the improved outcomes at lower costs is going to mean showing the proof that something works, and how it delivers the value,” says Kessler. “I think that is going to require a base level understanding of the healthcare industry challenges and a lot of analytics.”

Alumni connection was key

Mirasola knew he wanted a job in healthcare analytics when he graduated in spring 2016, but finding entry-level job openings proved challenging. Most positions required at least three to five years of experience. Hamman handed out Mirasola’s resume at one of her board meetings.

“I said ‘If I am going to build this minor, I want to make sure we can employ our students — Tony is one of the best grads I have. Who is going to hire him?’”

UWL alumnus Kyle O’Brien, ’09, was serving on the board and forwarded Mirasola’s resume within his organization, the WHA. Mirasola was asked to interview for the new position to administer the dashboard project.

Mirasola says his experience of working with clients in UWL CBA courses helped him feel prepared for the communication role in his new job.

“I thoroughly enjoy what I’m doing now. It is great to go out and work with hospitals — meeting with CEOs, CFOs and staff and talking about how the project can benefit them,” he says.

O’Brien has enjoyed serving on the board to develop a much-needed healthcare analytics management minor that will serve healthcare facilities statewide. But he never envisioned that his role would be a direct benefit to his own organization.

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A fast growing career path

Between 2014 and 2024, employment of medical and health services managers is expected to grow by 17 percent, making it one of the fastest growing occupational groups in the U.S. economy, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.