Health IT in 2016: Waves of Data on the Horizon

John Lynn

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Looking forward to the healthcare landscape in 2016, there is an impending explosion of information. Healthcare is already a data-rich environment, but the waves of data the industry is experiencing today are nothing compared to the swells on the horizon.

Data Waves Heading Toward the Healthcare Industry

The influx of healthcare data is going to eclipse the already data-rich healthcare world, and the waves of information that will hit the proverbial shores come from a number of sources. First, there will be an increase in internal data. Much of this information resides in electronic health records, but data will also be created in hundreds of other hospital IT systems.

In addition to their own data, healthcare providers will likely be inundated with health information exchange data. Interoperability of health data is a challenge today, but it is a problem that will likely be solved or at least mitigated in the near future. The value-based care model the industry is shifting toward will require doctors to have access to all of a patient’s medical information. This will increase the amount of data providers must gather and access.

Another source of increasing amounts of data is medical devices, including internal devices and data from patient-controlled devices and sensors such as remote monitoring tools and fitness trackers. The current crop of consumer health devices can only capture steps, heart rate, blood pressure and the like, but this is just the beginning.

Further, healthcare is starting to see pockets of genomic data. Eventually, this information will be required in every healthcare organization.

Finally, healthcare organizations will need to collect environmental and societal data. It may no longer be enough to just treat patients — healthcare providers will have to understand the environmental and societal factors that affect their patients as well. After all, it makes no sense to treat the illness and then send the patient back to a home that has no heat.

How to Prepare for the Data Influx

The Health IT infrastructure in 2016 will be built on the back of all this data. According to Becker’s Hospital Review, as of April 2014, two-thirds of Americans lived in areas served by at least one accountable care organization (ACO), and these organizations need data. What, then, can ACOs and other healthcare organizations do to prepare for this onslaught of data and start to harness its power?

Create a Data Storage Plan

The first step in any data project is making sure the organization has secure and reliable access to data . Health data efforts will likely fail if patients do not trust the organization to secure their data properly or if the organization and its members cannot reliably access the information.

Further, data is only beneficial to healthcare organizations if it is accurate. Every healthcare organization needs to put together teams and processes to ensure its internal data and patient databases are comprehensive and free of errors. Plus, organizations must create processes to integrate data from trusted external sources into their own systems.

Leverage Stored Information

Data is useless if healthcare organizations do not do anything with it, which means providers need to create actionable uses for their data. The goal of data collection is not to simply gather more information — it is to gain actionable insights that can be easily analyzed and put into use. Creating actionable insights from data builds credibility with providers and facilitates improved care delivery.

Once health organizations discover the nuggets of wisdom that are most useful, they should integrate these insights into their points of care. It is unreasonable to think providers will take the time to access data stored in a separate system or database, since they are already extremely busy. For this reason, patient insights need to be integrated into a provider’s workflow. Essential data needs to be integrated into electronic health records, and to achieve this goal, organizations must discuss integration options with their electronic health records vendor.

Involve Providers and Patients

While doctors are able to provide better care when they have access to the right information, they are not the only ones who benefit. The same is true for professionals such as nurses, care managers, lab workers, pharmacists and researchers. Some of the most promising uses of healthcare data do not involve doctors at all, which makes it important for all authorized healthcare professionals to be able to securely access their organization’s data.

Further, many health data initiatives require patient involvement to collect data and effectively act on findings. Now is the time to engage patients so they are willing and excited to be involved in health data efforts. Healthcare providers that do not have trusting relationships with their patients will likely be ill-prepared to capture this opportunity, potentially impacting their standing in the community.

As the healthcare world evolves to include value-based care, ACOs, quality scoring and new reimbursement structures, the success of healthcare providers will depend on their ability to leverage health data effectively. Humans will never be taken out of healthcare, but their skills will be complemented by tools that can leverage the impending waves of health data.

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