Despite the Data Tsunami, Healthcare Thirsts for Information

By Dave Lareau, CEO, Medicomp Systems
Twitter: @MedicompSys

The towering waves of data have finally hit the healthcare shore. Thanks to new technologies, health reform laws and federal stimulus programs, providers are now flooded with more clinical data than ever before.

We didn’t need a national weather alert to know that the data tsunami was coming. Health IT experts have spent years advancing the secure exchange of patient information between clinicians and have achieved significant success. Yet, even with the variety of channels for sharing critical patient data – including bi-directional connections between acute and post-acute facilities, health information exchanges (HIE) and direct messaging – interoperability gaps still exist.

As healthcare stakeholders address the weak links of interoperability in the care chain, especially in the post-acute space, another challenge has arisen: transmuting the high quantity into high quality data. Supplying physicians with data alone will not measurably improve patient care. Instead, what providers need is contextually relevant medical information that offers insight into a patient’s medical history and current problems. Data is just data – and not actionable information – unless it is logically compiled and transformed into information.

Consider a typical patient exam:

  • The clinician may be able to obtain a more complete view of a patient’s medical history, including previous lab and test results, medications and diagnoses through their state’s HIE.
  • He or she may also have access to the local hospital’s EHR to review patient records.
  • Depending on the complexity of the patient’s health and treatment, the physician may experience an overwhelming amount of available data to review and assess in the 10-15 minutes (or less) allocated for each patient visit.

With the double whammy of reduced time and ever-increasing data, it would be easy for a clinician to inadvertently overlook pertinent data, even with the best of intentions.

Although we’re sharing more data every day, we are still not quenching healthcare’s thirst for clinically relevant information. As an industry, we must leverage technology to find ways to intelligently identify and interpret the disorganized and complex arrays of medical information from multiple sources to buoy providers in their goal to deliver better care. We must then convert that data into structured, actionable formats and present the relevant elements for each patient encounter. Finally, we need to deliver this filtered, high-value information as part of the physician’s workflow while the patient is in the exam room.

Innovative health IT solutions have made it possible to access and exchange more clinical data than ever before. However, lest we drown providers in data, we must now transform the prolific, disparate data into purposeful, contextual information that truly enhances clinician decision-making and produces quality outcomes.