We’ve all heard the latest buzz words: big data, data visualization, data integrity. The prevalence of these terms in Health IT circles are evidence that Healthcare organizations are faced with immense amounts of data, and their “buzz” status is more than enough warning that facing data challenges is an imminent prospect. With better and faster technologies and the implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Health Insurance Exchanges (HIEs) in the near future, we will see even more data flooding into the national system of health networks and databases. IT partners like Segue will have a critical role in supporting health organizations in their data challenges – managing data volume, ensuring data quality, and ensuring accessibility.
One of the main focuses of healthcare reform is ensuring that patients are the center of all medical decisions. It is evident that if reaching a truly patient-centered healthcare system is our goal, more must be done with patient data. We must reevaluate how this data is analyzed, presented, and how it moves throughout the healthcare system. In addition the validity and accuracy of the data needs to be ensured. When a caregiver or researcher is making a treatment decision for an individual patient, they need to have confidence in the data that has helped them reach that decision. Yet a lack of liquidity remains, keeping much of the patient’s information effectively locked down.
Liquidity refers to the ability of patient data to move throughout the healthcare system securely and usefully. This “liquid” health information is meant to be pushed digitally to all appropriate parties via EHR and HIE channels. The Health IT vision is to have complete, vital, real-time patient information liberated from a file cabinet and available at the point of care whenever it is needed, wherever it occurs. On-demand access to a truly complete medical picture can enable improvements in health quality, efficiency, and convenience – all while reducing the costs associated with delivering that care.
Big Data and Health IT
Clinical information is increasingly complex and voluminous. Health Organizations are trying to understand how “big data” can be successfully leveraged using IT tools. The majority of the data is unstructured and currently sits unused, having been retained largely for regulatory purposes. However, if it can be harnessed, it could provide tremendous benefits to caregivers and patients.
“Big Data” requires unique data warehousing, mining, and analytical capabilities to turn data from information into knowledge and action. This goes beyond crunching numbers on a spreadsheet, but it is possible. For example, at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Doctors are avoiding the “cookbook medicine” approach of applying the same battery of tests to all patients who come into the emergency department with similar symptoms. By accessing patient data, caregivers take an evidence-based approach to medicine. To enable this, Beth Israel has developed an app that gives caregivers self-service access to 200 million data points from about 2 million patients. The ability to collect and parse such huge amounts of current information creates a meaningful step forward in providing patient-centered care.
Achieving Health Data Liquidity
What steps are needed to reach the state of Health Data Liquidity? A lack of standardization in everything from naming conventions to coding is problematic, but analytics are increasingly touted as a resolution to this issue. Normalizing raw patient data by mapping it to LOINC (Logistical Observation Identifiers Names and Codes) and SNOWED CT (Systematized Nomenclature of Medicine – Clinical Terms) and using natural language processing and tools such as the Notifiable Condition Detector can free currently locked data for research. The Beth Israel app, for example, uses SNOWMED CT to encode physicians’ free-text notes, making them searchable.
Where might harnessing the big data lead us? What does it mean, why does it matter? A simplified list of benefits includes:
- Reduction of Medical Errors
- Improved collaboration throughout the healthcare system
- Facilitation of better patient-care transitions
- Faster, better emergency care
- Increased convenience for patients
- Enhanced ability to respond to public health emergencies and disasters
- Improved platforms for innovations and breakthroughs
Big data is overwhelming, but that is best viewed as an opportunity, not an obstacle, for improving the delivery of health care.