Some twenty years ago nobody could have imagined that healthcare data would evolve the way it has and become an intrinsic part of the industry. Today, one of the largest and most complex industries in the U.S. is ripe for data initiatives; however, it is in the hands of the stakeholders to take these initiatives forward. The first giant leap into leveraging big data was made after the widespread adoption of EHRs by most hospitals in the country as it helped physicians with diagnostic advice and treatment guidance.
All the brouhaha over not leveraging big data and neglecting data integration takes place because it is another chance lost at what the U.S. healthcare has been trying to achieve for a long time – improved patient outcomes and reduced costs for care services.
How are the contemporaries faring?
A general hospital in Singapore went 99% paperless since the day of its inception. By thoroughly utilizing data, the hospital currently succeeds in reducing costs for their patients and saving hours for their staff. For instance, the EHRs in the hospital automatically inform care teams to repeat blood tests on a sample taken earlier, thus saving the patients the cost and pain of repeated blood extractions.
Moreover, traditionally the vital signs of patients are jotted down on paper, however, in the paperless system of the hospital, nurses are saving hours as vital signs monitors directly transmit information into the EHR systems. Similarly, eliminating the need for printing reports has helped in saving time and money. The hospital in Singapore has saved $150,000 in almost two years by doing away with printed electrocardiogram (ECG) reports.
Besides minimizing miscommunication, data can help healthcare in enhancing the use of manpower. The most obvious advantages of data integration for the healthcare leadership includes the ability to bring in and visualize data from different sources, consolidate that data with more data, and apply business transformations to the acquired data so it conforms to the organization’s needs. It then provides standardized data in a format and place such as a “data lake” where it is consumable by the business.
What are the possibilities that await healthcare?
We know that different kinds of healthcare data are stored on different systems. Once integrated, this data can open up several possibilities for providers and patients. Now, bringing data together involves certain challenges like breaking down siloes and reconciling formats. However, the most obvious ones are probably technical. But fortunately for us, those technical challenges are usually the easiest to resolve mainly because technical issues are understandable and measurable. Plus, the present data integration tools can help us benefit from the lessons already learned — why learn them again?
Following are some out of the many possibilities that exist once we harness the potential of quick and efficient data integration:
Ease of use – The use of health IT leads to data-driven decision making and error-free medication on behalf of the physicians. Trends in data do not dictate what physicians should be doing but instead, gives them analyzed data through they can make evidence-based choices.
Actionable insights – Providing data-driven insights to clinicians and enabling data analytics to affect population health are some of the ways to incorporate data analytics into health care practices to improve the quality of care delivery.
Connected care teams – The changes in vital signs can be subtle and may go unnoticed by the human eye despite constant monitoring. Through integrated and connected data, healthcare networks can enable their systems to read patients’ vital signs and automatically receive alerts if a patient is at risk of any sudden, life-threatening episode.
Secure patient records – Data stored electronically is more secure than hand-written documents. The amount of saved dollars and hours far outweigh the costs incurred for storing big data. Moreover, these records hosted on the cloud can easily be shared across the network or even accessed by the patient making healthcare more transparent and efficient.
Predictions and trends based on current data – After gathering a multitude of data, stakeholders in care organizations can view trends, project costs, and take remedial steps to enhance the care continuum. The abundance of data can deliver the capability of predictive analytics to care teams with accuracy and speed in care. Analyzing patient data can also help physicians determine treatment protocols and come up with the most suitable care plan.
Cost-driver analysis – Data helps in finding the means to identify the high-risk population in a hospital or health system. Comparing and analyzing the performance of skilled nursing facilities by data helps in identifying cost-drivers for the organization. To directly compare hospitals and departments on a wide range of metrics is to measure improvement of the organization and can even be narrowed down to an individual physician. Allowing performance comparisons not only improves the quality of physicians but ensures that it does not drop as most physicians are competitive and would like their name on top of the board.
The road ahead
In the end, it all comes down to how we utilize the enormous amount of data that is available to us. Is healthcare ready to make data integration the norm rather than the exception? Is healthcare willing to make more breakthroughs in the care continuum with technology? Will the use of analytics not make healthcare reach new heights in terms of affordable and quality care? Rhetorics aside, we must decide for ourselves as active members of the industry if we want to steer the wheels in the direction of change and innovation.
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