The healthcare data debate: Forget big data and think actionable data

If you work in healthcare you hear the terms “big data,” “population health management,” and “integration” daily. You look around and see hundreds of dedicated engineering resources, millions of dollars, and years of effort being invested in technologies to aggregate and analyze data. Some technology companies and healthcare organizations have succeeded in this significant and […]

If you work in healthcare you hear the terms “big data,” “population health management,” and “integration” daily. You look around and see hundreds of dedicated engineering resources, millions of dollars, and years of effort being invested in technologies to aggregate and analyze data.

Some technology companies and healthcare organizations have succeeded in this significant and difficult effort, and others are just starting this very onerous journey. Connecting and consolidating multiple EMRs, lab systems, medication data, problem lists, and (often dated) claims data is no easy feat. Making sense of it all is a whole other story.

I ask myself, “is connecting the big data pipes to bring together historical data the most effective, and therefore important, area for IT to focus?” My opinion? No.  

I believe the most important healthcare data is this: the timely, actionable data, presented clearly and concisely to all care team stakeholders.  

I’ve had discussions with national leaders in healthcare informatics, accomplished business leaders, physicians of varying specialties, and many patients and caregivers. I’ve asked all these stakeholders a key question around patient data. My question has been, “What is the most important data in healthcare?  Is it what has happened to the patient in the past? What is happening with the patient today? Or what needs to happen with care tomorrow?

The most common response?  Our most important data is where the patient is today and where the patient needs to be tomorrow.

 Historical data has a short half-life.  Let’s not understate its importance – it is often critical for a diagnosis or treatment plan – however, the current focus on healthcare data is unbalanced. Care team members need to know the state of play for the patient today and the forward looking care plan. Healthcare administrators want to understand the processes of how care is happening.

Healthcare is evolving quickly – which I believe to be a positive thing. However, provider organizations are struggling as they navigate the new waters of healthcare reform – new contracting models, new care delivery models, and new technologies. Therefore, many are simply reacting and making investments in Health Information Exchanges, Enterprise Data Warehouses, or Population Health Management tools because the buzz surrounding them is leading them to “do something and do it quickly.” It results in a herd mentality; just following the crowd.

I want to encourage all of us to pause and give thought to this: Can we transform healthcare and change the data focus from big data to actionable data that connects people, their teams and their care plans? I believe we can. There are less expensive, easier-to-implement solutions that are focused exactly on  driving action and connecting people. We need to connect care teams, share actionable information, and bring forward appropriate historical data for the patient’s care. Focusing on actionable data is critical to succeeding in this new environment and is central for providing the best patient care.

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