Data Silos Are an Underappreciated Medical Tragedy

JeremyGuttmanBy Jeremy Guttman, Researcher and Content Developer, Treatspace
Twitter: @Treatspace

Healthcare reform is very real. Only primary care practices who prepare now will be ready for big changes in reimbursement and quality metrics. According to Dr. Danyal Ibrahim, the Chief Data Analytics officer at Saint Francis Care in Connecticut, identifying gaps and bringing data together is crucial to overcoming isolated silos in healthcare and to delivering the kind of outcomes that meet and exceed performance metrics.

Providers who don’t harness data for the new era of healthcare “have at least a vague, nagging feeling that they should probably start developing the data-driven competencies.” In a recent HealthITAnalytics article, Dr. Ibrahim described identifying and overcoming data silos as the biggest hurdle of creating a streamlined data analytics infrastructure. “[T]here are so many times when our data ends up siloed, and pieces of information end up going to all different places that cannot communicate with one another…So one big component goes to the finance department, and other to IT, and another to the quality improvement team.”

Forbes magazine weighs in on poor data sharing as “a medical tragedy of underappreciated dimension. Valuable, even vital information often remains uncaptured, unanalyzed, and, especially, unshared.”

Overcoming health data silos is proven to lead to cost savings. A McKinsey Global report estimated that the efficient use of data in healthcare could create more than $300 billion in value every year and quintuple hospital profits.

Map out the gaps

According to Dr. Ibrahim, one way for healthcare organizations to begin addressing data silos is to map out the gaps. “[O]rganizations have to examine their data analytics foundations and take a hard look at their existing competencies and the gaps that may prevent them from achieving their goals.” They also need to be able to analyze the data with a good data analytics platform. “Can you aggregate it, normalize it, curate it, and then expose it to different types of analyses so that you can ultimately deliver reports in a way that is meaningful?”

To accomplish these data goals, Dr. Ibrahim emphasizes how critical it is for data-savvy organizations to forge relationships with health IT vendors. “Health IT vendors may offer a selection of skills and tools that organizations cannot cultivate in-house, and these complementary competencies are often the missing link for a healthcare analytics program.” He also suggests that organizations choose health IT vendors that are “responsive and open to engaging in frequent and productive conversations.”

Referral Management Breaks Down Patient and Referral Information Silos

When a physician refers a patient to a specialist, patient information won’t get where it needs to go if it is stuck in a data silo such as a paper record or inside an EHR system that cannot talk to another EHR system. Because of these data silos, referral trend information also cannot be compiled and analyzed – with data silos, practices can’t gather data on which specialists the PCPs have referred to in the past, how fast it takes specialists to schedule appointments, and how fast it takes specialists to send back consult reports. This referral trend information needs to be combined in a way that data silos prevent.

Andy Slavitt, the acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), also criticizes data silos. At the Health Datapalooza conference in May 2016 he said that “[i]f you have a business model which relies on silo-ing data, not using standards, or not allowing data to follow the needs of patients, pick a new business model or pick a new business.” This pressing issue that has the attention of regulators and future reimbursement models will require more forms of health data sharing.

Physician practices who partner with referral management health IT vendors can solve referral data silo problems. With an electronic referral management application, referral data silos break down. If a patient is referred to a specialist by a PCP, that information is conveyed to the specialist every time, along with any important patient records. And if a specialist hasn’t sent a consult report back to the PCP, the PCP will know about it and be able to to follow-up quickly and easily. Electronic referral management allows crucial patient information to be released from the confines of data silos and put to good use to keep patients safe and healthy.

This article was originally published on Treatspace and is republished here with permission.