The Importance of Data in Healthcare

From October 18–20, hospital executives and experts on healthcare policy met at the 2015 US News Hospital of Tomorrow Forum in Washington, D.C. to discuss a broad spectrum of important issues with the goal of improving the future of healthcare in the United States. The topics focused on included healthcare information technology (IT), digital health, and improvement in value-based care. Several positive outcomes arose from this forum, one being clarity into the agreement between federal government and healthcare leaders that data sharing is crucial in today’s healthcare system. Sharing data between hospitals helps both the individual hospital and more importantly, allows for reduced costs and improved patient outcomes across hospital systems. As a result of its potential to transform healthcare, data sharing and management was a frequent topic of the weekend.

The 2015 Hospital of Tomorrow Forum had a strong emphasis on the importance of healthcare information technology in advancing interoperability and reducing costs. In 2009, the Government passed the HITech Act, designed to encourage hospitals and doctors to use electronic medical records; however, despite $30 billion being invested in this goal, many hospitals and doctors have been hesitant to put these systems into practice. This is a big problem as hospitals are withholding data that could be shared to optimize patient care. The discussion at the forum highlighted that when data is shared between doctors and hospitals, cost of treatment is effectively decreased because unnecessary tests can be avoided. It was very encouraging to see that both healthcare professionals and the federal government are starting to agree that legislation is necessary to reform healthcare in the right direction. James Paluskiewicz, Deputy Chief of Staff for Texas Republican Representative Michael Burgess, confirmed that Congress is intent on medical data reform. He elaborated on this, saying that Congress sees the need for another law to succeed in promoting universal electronic medical record usage where HITech Act failed. Since data transparency is critical to the goals of the federal government for healthcare, it seems that the federal healthcare policy is headed in the right direction. Healthcare information technology helps increase transparency and collaboration in healthcare, but as many experts expressed at the forum, poor data management cannot be tolerated as this country moves toward digitizing healthcare. Utilizing cloud-based software can increase transparency for hospitals and allows them to easily access, organize, and analyze their data, to more efficiently manage healthcare data.

The experts at the panel agreed that hospitals are collecting a lot of data in day-to-day operations, but most do not have the tools to utilize that data properly. To remedy this, hospitals need to introduce data analytics into their operations. Physicians and the hospital IT department need to be in constant communication to ensure that the proper data is being used and that analyzed results are presented in a clear fashion to hospital stakeholders. It is very important for management in particular to meet on a consistent basis with the IT department at their hospital to make sure they are tracking the proper metrics to assess the performance of the hospital thereby aligning practice with their goals. Dick Daniels, Chief Information Officer for Kaiser Foundation Hospitals and Health Plan Inc, spoke extensively on these issues, relating them to his experiences in finance. He encouraged hospitals to learn from the financial sector, where online banking allowed for ATMs to work with any bank; this allowed for seamless interoperability. Through analysis of hospital data, especially shared data, hospital executives can understand how to lower their rates of preventable errors. This is particularly important in the United States since it has one of the highest rates of deaths due to conditions amenable to healthcare. Software tools that generate actionable data from data collected from product requests and decisions provide hospital executives with insight into the processes of their organization as a whole. In addition, a management tool can provide a way for hospital leaders to track the performance of each department and ultimately determine their process efficiency. In this way, hospitals can finally maximize the benefit that they get from their collected data, helping to optimize digitization of healthcare in accordance with the goals voiced at the Forum.

Among many topics discussed in the 2015 US News Hospital of Tomorrow Forum, there was a big focus on how to use data properly in healthcare because of its potential for improving patient care. However, while data has the potential to be very helpful in healthcare, it is not always organized or managed properly, making it difficult to understand. Poorly managed data can also be dangerous to a healthcare organization as it exposes the organization to a potential security breach. Sharing data between hospitals streamlines the efficiency of our national healthcare system through cutting costs while improving patient outcomes. This requires data management and analysis, which can be initially intimidating to hospital executives; however these types of technologies will ultimately help the hospital and consequently, the patient. Thankfully, Congress is aware that there is reluctance among health systems to adopt healthcare technology and is looking to change this; James Paluskiewicz noted, “Electronic health records are not as widely available as they need to be. Congress is paying attention.” With Congress supporting the digitalization of the US healthcare system, there will hopefully be an effective piece of legislature that can finish what the HITech Act of 2009 started. With this new legislature, healthcare data will have more power than ever and the US will have a chance to take a big stride toward interoperability in healthcare.

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