Healthcare is closer to democratizing data. Now it needs to figure out what to do with it

As healthcare organizations share more data with one another, the industry is grappling with a slew of new health IT challenges, including how to make use of newfound data sources and engender trust among patients.

That’s according to a new “Health Trends Report” released by Stanford Medicine, the organization’s second report in as many years. Since its inaugural report in June 2017, the industry has undergone seismic shifts as consumer technology giants increasingly encroached in the healthcare space. Broadly, health data ownership has grown for both consumers and organizations, “and the pace at which these groups exchange data is accelerating,” Lloyd Minor, M.D., dean of Stanford University School of Medicine wrote (PDF).

“Today, we’re starting to see walls come down in the health care industry, allowing data to flow more freely to where it can do the most good,” he added. “Realms of historically siloed expertise are opening up to more and more people. Patients can now get access to their personal health information. And digital tools are giving rise to new health platforms that are increasingly useful to physicians and patients alike.”

Stanford has emerged as a national leader in embracing new digital health solutions like wearables and urging providers to "junk the fax." Stanford is part of a huge research effort to test the Apple Watch and its ability to detect atrial fibrillation. 

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The report—based on interviews with experts, a review of publicly available data, and Stanford’s own experts—outlines three pillars of “democratization in healthcare.”

  1. Intelligent computing: Access to more data is fueling powerful algorithms that will become a critical tool for physicians. But practical and ethic considerations loom large.
  2. Sharing: Healthcare organizations are sharing more data, but the industry hasn’t reached its full potential. Basic gaps in interoperability will hold back new AI tools, as will “messy” data that renders information unusable.
  3. Security, privacy and safety: Great data sharing means bigger risks around security and privacy. Although healthcare organizations recognize the need to invest in cybersecurity, budgets don’t always meet that need.

That last pillar is critical to building trust with patients. Blowback against consumer technology companies like Facebook over privacy concerns have thrust the issue into a brighter spotlight. Ensuring the proper guardrails are in place will help chip away at consumer mistrust.

Working with technology companies and embracing new innovations around AI will also be key drivers of data democratization, the report stated.

“Health care democratization has the potential to recast the patient-doctor relationship, giving patients an opportunity to play a much more prominent role than they have before,” the authors wrote. “If we get this right, it could be a very positive development, for both sides.”