Coverage & Commentary

More, More, More: Removing data inefficiencies will remove healthcare roadblocks

In today’s incredibly connected world, more health data is available than ever before—but how much of it is being transformed into actionable information?

Not enough.

From routine patient care to record keeping to requisite regulatory compliance details, the healthcare industry generates enormous amounts of directionless data. All that data on its own may not hold any tangible value, but the future of healthcare will be reshaped if we can leverage it to improve care.

Massive collections of big data have already permeated many components of the health ecosystem and are fueling new forms of service delivery. The rising ability to collect patient data and transmit from remote locales accelerates the reach of virtual healthcare and telemedicine. Innovative predictive models fed by troves of imaging data can better anticipate disease. Data from wearables such as a Fitbit or Apple watch can aid in developing more personalized, lasting healthcare approaches.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the vast majority of these developments transpire in isolated, unscalable, limited-purpose silos. There are very real barriers to translating health-data-based innovation broadly into improved healthcare practice. An American Hospital Association study identified key roadblocks such as a lack of compatible technology among providers, difficulty in data exchange across different vendor platforms, challenges with matching/identifying patients between systems, and the prohibitive costs of customized interface development and data exchange with outside systems.

Meanwhile, frustration over clumsy, one-size-fits-all approaches to fundamental data technologies such as EHRs continues to undermine the physician-patient relationship and hinder greater data literacy in the industry. It turns out that striking a balance between sharing and protecting health data is extremely complicated, as is doing so without alienating or overburdening those who need to use it.

Beyond meeting explicit regulatory or contractual requirements, healthcare organizations still struggle to define data collection intent and purpose within their own confines, much less properly analyze and exchange data insights industry-wide.

There’s a void in data usability standardization—and that void is an enormous obstruction. Filling it requires a means to make health data more purposeful and portable regardless of provider system or interface. It requires that health data, itself, be made interoperable.

Realizing the benefits of health data interoperability at scale will necessitate broad, multidisciplinary collaboration and coordination. That’s no small feat in our necessarily cautious and complex sector.

But it is possible, as data innovation in other highly complex and/or regulated ventures such as geographic information science or algorithmic finance have shown.