Industry Voices—The goal for healthcare data moves beyond quality to usability

I’ve been chasing high-quality data my entire career. As a physician, a senior payer executive, and now as a health tech entrepreneur, I understand the major obstacles that health plans, providers and patients face when it comes to accessing reliable data. Like so many others in healthcare, I also believe complete and accurate data are the key to unlocking major gains in equity, affordability, outcomes and experiences.

But I now know that the focus on high-quality data doesn’t go far enough.

The value of high-quality data is in its usability.

Here’s what I mean: We are making progress on creating oceans of validated data, but that is only part of the formula for healthcare transformation. While consolidating and cleaning billions and billions of clinical, pharmacy, claims, social determinants and other data is absolutely necessary, they remain trapped in massive pools unless we do something more to them.

That something is funneling those oceans of data into useful streams of information, tailored for a wide variety of purposes including analytics and operations. Usable data empower payers, providers and, most importantly, patients to make choices that lead to healthier lives and better health outcomes faster and more affordably.

Defining data usability

Data that are fully and immediately usable have six dimensions, beginning with the first two elements that make it high quality.

1. Complete. Collecting, validating, normalizing and integrating both structured and unstructured data from a multitude of siloed, disconnected sources presented in a variety of formats enables a 360-degree view. It requires tracking and constantly adding inputs from current sources—such as new doctor visits, changes in medications or prior authorizations—as well as expanding into new categories such as information related to behavioral health, telehealth and social determinants.

2. Accurate. Once data are consolidated and standardized, it’s critical to root out redundancies and errors. Accuracy depends on regular updates that capture the constant changes in claims, patient records and more.

3. Timely. No matter how complete and accurate, data that are six months old do little to help at points of need, whether that’s for patient care, making business decisions or developing mandated reports. Up-to-date data are critical to usability.

4. Application and use-case agnostic. Most often, data are tied to a specific application, such as analytics, or narrow use, such as enabling data interoperability between payers and third parties for Medicare and Medicaid patients. Usable data can be tailored to serve any and all purposes, so they work with every application, system and business need.

Data that are application and use-case agnostic provide a new level of control and freedom, delivering maximum flexibility and efficacy for both analytics and operational uses. This type of data also facilitates innovation, such as enabling testing of new member engagement strategies and care models.

5. Relevant. Data that are germane to various healthcare needs and data that are extraneous to those needs are mixed together in various domains and source systems. It’s critical to identify and separate out the necessary data and jettison the clutter. Context matters!

6. Versatile. Drawing from the relevant data, the next step is to extract, bundle and deliver just the right data for a specific use case, such as risk adjustment or member engagement. Data also need to be packaged in a suitable format for immediate use regardless of the application that is delivering the value.  

Setting our sights on data usability gets us to better and faster analysis and decision-making, more efficient and effective business operations, innovation, decreased waste and improved compliance—each the catalyst of greater access, equity, outcomes and affordability. Usable data are the fuel for accelerating and scaling population health management, value-based payments and other meaningful breakthroughs. The shift in focus beyond quality to usability is the game-changing difference in reaching these goals.

Minal Patel, M.D., is the founder and CEO of Abacus Insights.