Without data analysts, even secure systems can hamper healthcare data infrastructure
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Countless industries are being impacted by an inability to find enough skilled workers. In the case of hospitals and healthcare systems, that labor gap often comes during the process of data integration.
Many health systems lack the sheer number of workers needed to perform advanced analytics. This hampers the organization’s ability to use data to drive decision-making, produce efficiencies and improve patient care. In other cases, the problem is an over-reliance on systems that aren’t secure.
Yesterday, Kaushik Bhaumik, a partner and America’s leader for health technology at EY (formerly Ernst & Young), shared his views on how hospitals and healthcare systems can implement new ways of capturing and storing data. Today, he shares his take with VentureBeat on what is happening at hospitals and healthcare systems when it comes to data infrastructure.
VentureBeat: What are the most common data infrastructure challenges that hospitals typically have to deal with?
Kaushik Bhaumik: Major health systems not only house patient records electronically, but they must also analyze and process reams of electronic data. Many hospitals still do not have the analysts needed to organize data and pull meaningful outcomes.
Or they do not have systems that are secure and resilient. Cybersecurity is another main concern. Records must be encrypted as they’re being delivered. And measures must be put in place to ensure that only certain people can access the files.
The good news is that the industry has standards for moving data (HL7). But there are still a lot of improvements that can be made. For example, while patients may want to access digestible information on their phones, many healthcare systems aren’t quite there yet. It’s a more complex interaction. But it is improving, since the industry knows that digital engagement with the patient is critical for long-term success.
VB: What are best practices for a hospital to evaluate its health information system and its governance?
Bhaumik: First, leaders should examine privacy and security protocols and cyber safeguards. Organizations should assess the risk potential of cyberthreats. Then they should develop mitigation plans should such a breach occur.
Healthcare providers should look at HIPAA compliance and ask whether patient records are secured. Only people involved with the patient’s care should have access to their records. Even then, it should only be for the data that’s relevant for their purposes.
Second, is ensuring that hospitals have interoperability capabilities. This way, when the data needs to move, it moves efficiently. This can be done through test runs by internal and external IT teams. These teams ensure that platforms are running properly and utilizing FHIR [fast healthcare interoperability resources] standards. Hospital executives should also consider the presentation of the data as it’s moving, to ensure that it makes sense.
Third, is having a sophisticated team of data analysts. They should be capable of turning large quantities of data into actionable items and trends, among other uses. By investing in a strong analytics-oriented team, hospitals and healthcare systems can improve the quality of care, outcomes and lower costs. They are able to synthesize reports and metrics quickly and can spot patterns and other nuances.
Finally, organizations should prioritize implementing more cloud infrastructure. Hospitals and health systems are accustomed to having their own data centers. Moving these systems into the cloud can improve access to data while saving operating costs.
VB: How does a hospital best integrate health data infrastructure across care settings and social services?
Bhaumik: This is when health equity comes into play. By better understanding the social determinants of health for their patient population, organizations can provide the right technology and infrastructure to ensure optimal care outcomes. This can include knowledge about what environmental factors they encounter, proximity to healthcare resources, and other similar aspects that will impact the population’s health.
Additionally, hospitals should consider the digital divide. This includes access issues and device preferences. Around 23% of U.S. households lack a desktop or laptop computer. [That percentage increases for BIPOC individuals]. Therefore, when care and social services are provided, hospitals need to make sure there aren’t any more digital barriers experienced by vulnerable populations.
Hospitals know a lot of this knowledge intuitively. But they need to make it more quantitative. That can be done through sophisticated data analytics. Digital technology can give organizations more visibility. This includes not only the digital profiles of patients, but also population health and demographic trends. This can spur the development of composite risk scores and individual care plans through platforms powered by machine learning.
Ultimately, digital technology has the potential to assist health systems and healthcare providers in eliminating care variation along multiple dimensions.
VB: How good a job do hospitals typically do of incorporating new and emerging technologies and modes of analysis into their systems and processes?
Bhaumik: It’s a work in process because hospitals have limited budgets. The economics of the healthcare industry plays a role in how quickly they can advance. More often than not, payers and insurers have the money. Hospitals, on the other hand, don’t have as much discretionary budget to invest in new technologies.
Some think payers and the government should allocate more investment funds to hospitals. But ultimately, a lack of liquid capital for strategic initiatives is the reason hospitals don’t move quickly on digital advancements.
VB: What do you believe are the keys to building the workforce needed to operate a 21st-century health infrastructure system?
Bhaumik: First and foremost, everybody in healthcare delivery should possess a basic awareness of analytics and data science. That’s the next generation of evolution. When professionals have this background, they question things differently and understand nuances.
Second, healthcare executives need to think about how to make patient relationships proactive rather than reactive. What they want is a health system where people are engaging with their health daily, and doctors and counselors are involved in preventative care. It’s a fundamental shift away from a “sick care” system.
To do that, realigned incentives are needed. Health systems should engage with patients in a frequent, but not burdensome way. Electronic nudges can help, and hopefully will lead to a healthier population and patients who are less reliant on hospitals and sick care in the future.
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