Big Data in Healthcare: Using Health IT Innovation to Accelerate Value

By Andy Crowne, EMC Healthcare 

The healthcare industry is in the midst of a big data revolution, starting with the increasing supply of patient information. As we transition to more data-driven healthcare, the ability to access, share and optimize patient data will become even more critical to our ability as an industry to deliver high-quality care—let alone reduce costs for both patient and provider.

But the goal of creating a more complete view of the patient record continues to require access to multiple clinical systems for patient data and associated documents—information that remains, despite our best efforts with widespread EMR adoption, locked away in numerous systems and document repositories, in multiple formats, without easy access or facility for electronic sharing. And the industry will be faced with even more patient data moving forward.

Technology, though—as we started to discuss in last month's blog—isn't enough to improve healthcare outcomes, or lower costs. The way the industry manages and optimizes all patient information will have to undergo fundamental changes before providers and organizations alike can distinguish between valuable data and information overload.

More specifically, the industry will have to leverage big data solutions that integrate fragmented healthcare information with existing patient health records to make data more meaningfully usable and enable providers to gain the actionable knowledge from it needed to make better clinical decisions. And access to all patient data will have to be streamlined across the continuum of care to support these efforts. To put it more bluntly, we will have to divine intelligence from patient data and visualize it to prevent "digital landfills" that render it useless.

Recent advances in value-added solutions are allowing for just that—information to be easily collected and analyzed from multiple sources, and integrated into existing clinical systems for use at the point of care and sharing across the continuum.

Financial concerns and clinical outcomes fueling big data demand

Financial concerns are driving the demand for big data solutions, conceivably more than any other influence. What we know for sure is that the current trajectory of healthcare spending in the U.S. is simply unsustainable. Spiraling healthcare expenditures are expected to double, according to IDC Health Insights, to $4.5 trillion by 2019—which continues take its toll on the U.S. economy by way of increased healthcare costs and health insurance premiums.

One notion behind this trend is overutilization. As a result, many payers are shifting from fee-for-service to value-based reimbursement, which will prioritize patient outcomes and place greater emphasis on quality and preventative care as opposed to treatment volume. Under these reimbursement models, providers will have greater incentive to compile and exchange patient information in an effort to speed care delivery and reduce costs, but doing so will require access to comprehensive patient health records.

Clinical trends to improve patient outcomes are also paramount in big data's upsurge in enabling data-driven healthcare. Providers have traditionally been trained to care for the 'patient in front of them,' utilizing their own judgment to make treatment decisions. However, the shift to value-based reimbursement changes this paradigm. This movement is creating an outcomes-based scenario where providers will have to embrace the trend of evidence-based medical practice, systematically reviewing clinical information to make treatment decisions based on all available patient data.

Providers now will also have to think in terms of entire populations of patients, especially those with specific conditions or diseases—including those who may be 'at-risk.' Big data will drive the new disciplines of population health management and analytics, which will enable healthcare organizations to identify and segment patients with certain diseases to provide them with preventative care. Aggregating these data sets will further fuel evidence-based medicine since access to more information and larger datasets will provide more robust evidence to treat patients, allowing for precise, personalized care to be delivered more quickly and cost effectively.

From meaningful use to "Meaningful Use"

Healthcare has typically always lagged behind in the use of big data when compared to other sectors, mainly over the chief issue of patient confidentiality. In recent years, however, we have begun to catch up, and first adopters of big data solutions are achieving positive results.

But we still face a critical need to accelerate big data innovation in healthcare, and its implementation, in order to capture the full value of what patient data can provide us. To do so, we need to disrupt the current state of the data management in industry to shift from Meaningful Use of EMR technology to more literal "meaningful use" of patient information to improve patient outcomes and lower costs. But this transformation to data-driven healthcare will require equal parts of record integration, interoperability, usability and infrastructure. Then and only then will healthcare delivery be able to advance to a point where we can solve the problem of rising healthcare costs and decreasing quality.

The days of looking at big data as a technology rather than a tool to enable better healthcare delivery are long gone—especially when you factor in that the need to remove the usability constraints from EMRs and other clinical systems.

Solutions such as this bring us a step closer to truly appreciating the scope of evidence-based medicine, population health management and analytics can play in healthcare delivery, and they will allow us to determine the connection points between data to identify trends and improve patient outcomes, and drive down costs.

Big data solutions will provide the mechanism needed to generate more meaningful knowledge that can positively impact patient outcomes. Clinicians will also become empowered to deliver better care and use access to all information known about a patient to help turn expensive patient encounters into more affordable ones, both for the patient and the healthcare organization.

However, healthcare organizations will have to continue to work together to create and share more comprehensive patient records so that the needs to the patient can be met as they journey across the continuum of care.

Come back next month

Join us again next month as we continue this dialogue and discuss whether or not the healthcare industry is prepared to utilize the full potential of big data, or if roadblocks will impede its use. And more importantly, how ‪big data solutions can be leveraged to answer questions and deliver treatment that has not been fully imagined before now.