Data from routine medical visits can improve care for all

Data about individual patients collected every day in doctor's offices and hospitals could be used to improve care among the population at large, according to a discussion paper released by the Institute of Medicine this week.

The paper argues that the data should be shared to create a learning healthcare system.

"Currently, the information collected like blood pressure, weight, medications used, disease diagnoses and medical history are used only to inform decisions for that individual patient. We are missing a tremendous opportunity to turn our health care system into one that learns from each care experience and leads to better and more affordable care for all," Michael D. Murray, the Regenstrief Institute investigator and Purdue University professor who was lead author on the paper, said in an announcement.

There are multiple ways data sharing can improve care, according to the paper, including:

  • Providing earlier detection and response to disease outbreaks.
  • Better targeting services where they'll do the most good.
  • Preventing patient harm.
  • Better applying research to clinical practice.

Among the examples cited is the flagging of Hepatitis B cases in Massachusetts among women of childbearing age to prevent complications for them and their babies.

Additionally, public databases might have identified earlier the heart attack risk posed by the drug Vioxx, the authors said.

What's more, the authors pointed to large databases used to replicate the finding that height and obesity are linked to blood clots, especially in men.

The sort of data sharing involved, of course, called for security measures to ensure patient privacy. Building public support and trust for research uses of clinical data will be key to promoting this sort of data sharing, the authors said.

Citing the goal of creating such a learning healthcare system, Deloitte Consulting and Intermountain Healthcare recently announced a five-year partnership to help the healthcare industry harness big data and analytics to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes.

It's among several provider-vendor or payer tie-ups with similar goals, including United Health and the Mayo Clinic, which plan to mine data from more than 110 million patients  to improve care and cut costs.

Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, meanwhile, is incorporating IBM's Watson technology to improve cancer care, among other things. Last fall, IBM announced that Watson technology would be used to help medical students at the Cleveland Clinic to analyze medical problems and develop evidence-based solutions.

To learn more:
- here's the announcement
- find the discussion paper (.pdf)


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