The Golden Age of Data Transformation in Healthcare

Data is the lifeline of the healthcare industry and we are in its golden age. Staggering amounts are generated daily and precision is key to ensure that every scan, test, prescription, and diagnosis produces data that leads to improved patient outcomes and quality future care.

But what happens when the liquid gold that is reliable data can no longer be accessed? 

Trust and confidence hinge on the access of patient information to provide a holistic view of patient history and analytics to gain actionable insights. 

Any disruption to this access could compromise a patient’s health, have a negative impact on organisational reputation with potential financial consequences.

Let’s further examine data’s profound impact on healthcare, emphasising its indispensable role in enhancing clinical practices, operational efficiency and fostering patient welfare.

Accessing data

Effective data doesn’t just sit in silos. It is all deeply interconnected to provide a value far beyond a single use case. We’re talking about a system of multiple processes relying on data to be accessed across medical records, diagnostics, devices, medical histories and more.

This is where interoperability comes in. When technologies are interoperable, they become a single, cohesive unit, designed for seamless integration between internal and external systems.

The need for interoperability

The need for interoperability cannot be overstated. 

Data generated in healthcare delivery has been increasing by 47% yearly. Interoperability allows for various stakeholders within the healthcare network to share access. Think of your pharmacies, hospitals, clinics, and insurers, who use that data to access:

  • Billing information
  • Patient data and medical records
  • Wider population data

While most healthcare providers can agree that they need to adopt interoperability to improve their data quality, it is reported that less than 40% of providers (US) have done so well enough to be able to share data across other organisations. There is a clear discrepancy between the increase in healthcare data and the success of system integration. 

Interoperability holds immense promise for the world of healthcare, but there are immediate challenges to be addressed:

  • Too much data- Preventing overflowing data is not an easy task. Interoperability deals with the influx of EHR (Electronic health network) and EMR (Electronic medical records) information. It also manages data from IoT sources, internal administrative systems and more. Failing to handle them can prove disruptive to overall systems.
  • Lack of resources- Oftentimes, areas of the healthcare industries often lack financial resources to make the changes required. There are initial investments required to make systems interoperable, but it allows for much larger long-term savings.
  • Questionable data exchange practices- Interoperability has been used to simply line the pockets of providers. Known as information blocking, fees are now being imposed to provide digital access to healthcare data as new revenue streams are identified

We’ll revisit the current state of data exchange practices in more detail. 

But first, let’s explore how IoT (Internet of Things) can act as a solution to the aforementioned problems, leveraging technologies to drive success.

Exploring IoT

While the healthcare industry struggles with interoperability, it is very well-known for its agility in adopting new technologies. It continuously innovates through the vast landscape known as the Internet of Things (IoT). 

IoT allows for new, innovative applications and services that have the potential to completely transform the face of healthcare. 

There are some majorly compelling use cases for IoT in healthcare, and a lot of its benefits are tangible. Some increasingly popular services include:

  • Telemedicine
  • Remote patient monitoring
  • Smart hospitals
  • Asset tracking and management

A popular example of healthcare using IoT for asset tracking and asset management is from HCA Healthcare. Operating in over 2,000 healthcare facilities across the US, HCA has implemented RFID tags designed to track medical equipment and supplies, all to enhance asset tracking, management and interoperability with other healthcare information.

So what’s the issue? Let’s return to the point about data exchange practices. There is an argument for the restrictive nature of this operating system. Data collected through RFID tags is not easily accessible or shareable with other providers or systems, which could hinder the exchange of information, leading to data blocking. 

There is also an issue of cost. Initial investment aside, hospitals will be forced to upgrade their existing devices to allow the data from the devices to be sent automatically, potentially costing millions for an establishment. Consider the financial impact that could have on a single hospital ward, let alone an entire annual hospital budget. All of these considerations could impact HCA’s ability to fully leverage RFID technology and overcome potential data-blocking issues.

Data Solutions

When exploring solutions to potential data blocking, it’s worth considering systems that allow facilities to make the most of their existing systems without the need to replace existing medical equipment or incur data access charges from medical device manufacturers who have spotted a potential new revenue model. 

There are technologies available with capabilities that help to address the interoperability challenges facing the industry. Reliability is key, and these languages enable cost-effective solutions, designed to seamlessly integrate subsystems, ensuring the efficient exchange of data without the need for a complete system overhaul. 

Organisations should always take care when implementing any sort of IoT solution and seamless, cost-effective integrations should always be top of mind.

Securely moving data

A staggering 200 million+ healthcare patient records have been exposed to data breaches in the past decade alone. The healthcare industry is positioned as the most expensive sector for the cost of data breaches 13 years in a row, according to IBM’s Cost of Data Breach report

Confidential patient information, financial details and other sensitive data have been compromised. This knock-on effect ultimately compromised various elements of healthcare confidentiality for both healthcare providers and patients alike. Amidst this growing challenge lies a need for secure, compliant healthcare.

Utilising Blockchain

By utilising blockchain technology, healthcare providers have access to enhanced privacy and integrity of their medical data, which minimises the associated risks of cyberattacks and security breaches.

Blockchain technology can provide a great solution for securely moving healthcare data. This is thanks to blockchain’s distributed ledger technology (DLT). This technology facilitates the secure transfer of patient’s medical records. It also helps to strengthen data defences and allows for the improved management of the medicine supply chain.

But there are incurred costs to consider. When moving data into Patient Information Systems (PIs), there may be initial upfront costs and maintenance costs to consider. Healthcare providers must weigh this against their budget and need for data security and compliance with privacy regulations.

Regulations and compliance

As well as the financial considerations, other weaknesses in blockchain technology must be considered. 

This includes a lack of standardisation, accessibility and regulatory powers. Take the regulatory body HIPAA. They have strict mandates in place to protect healthcare information. When discussing public blockchain, data privacy becomes an issue. Public blockchain is designed for transparent transactions, going against HIPAA regulations, and making public blockchains incompatible. Failure to adhere can lead to fines and various non-compliance penalties.

Moving to private blockchain also poses its obstacles: 

Issues with centralisation: Private blockchains can offer more control over data access and governance, but there are still issues surrounding who owns the data. HIPAA requires a clear centralisation of data and ownership and must be adhered to by private blockchains.

Standardised data: HIPAA requires consistent data formats to ensure an accurate data exchange. Achieving this across multiple private blockchains is difficult and could have an impact on collaboration and overall data sharing.

Interoperability: There are various stakeholders involved across many institutions such as insurers, hospitals etc, therefore interoperability is needed to have an effective exchange of data.

Leveraging innovative communication

Healthcare companies looking to manage their patient data and communications are adopting a host of apps and new comms channels to reliably share data. For example:

  • Electronic Health Records (EHR)
  • Electronic Medical Records (EMR)
  • Imaging data
  • Wearables 

But managing healthcare by these various means raises pertinent issues surrounding data security and privacy. Data needs to be stored securely and with the utmost confidentiality. Healthcare personnel must also keep on top of the latest technological advances to ensure data is not vulnerable to hacks or security breaches. But these system upgrades also come at a further long and short-term financial cost to maintain.

There are other ways to leverage secure and effective communication within the healthcare industry using different challenges, as highlighted by Pando Health.  

Developed by junior doctors and technologists, they sought to address the need for secure communication platforms for healthcare professionals. 

While they initially used a SaaS messaging platform for their prototype m they soon faced scalability limitations. Through the use of MongooseIM, an open source highly scalable messaging server, they were able to revolutionise the needs of healthcare communication, without having to replace the entire system.

The results?

  • A secure, NHS-approved chat system.
  • A medical app designed for secure and compliant communication, used by over 65,000 professionals.
  • A collaborative platform, designed for medical professionals without compromising patient security.

There are options for healthcare organisations to ensure secure data channels while complying with legislative requirements and maintaining patient confidentiality.

Being future-ready/ proof

We’ve already mentioned that data volume in healthcare will continue to expand exponentially. The challenge now lies in ensuring that healthcare providers are providing a strategic approach to brace themselves for this future growth. Lack of strategy leads to a loss of control over the access and organisation of your data, impacting those patients who need care the most.
When compared to other industries, healthcare already falls behind in the Future-ReadyBusiness Benchmark. But positive steps are being taken industry-wide to ensure 2024 specifically strengthens the healthcare industry, as we move towards digital-based healthcare, thanks to key trends and breakthrough innovations.

Implementing improved systems

Managing masses of data is becoming increasingly difficult. The need for rapid and reliable access to data combined with the need for data to be retained for extended periods of time presents some serious archival and storage challenges. A lot of these issues are near impossible with existing healthcare legacy systems.

Organisations require scalability and reliability to improve services and modernise. Many places have already started to adopt solutions to consolidate storage and data needs into long-term, future strategies. 

Some of these systems include:

  • The Internet of Medical Things – Those companies who specialise in IoMT often partner with software professionals, designed to connect to wearables- tracking key health metrics like blood pressure and heart rate in real time. 
  • Scalable telehealth services- There are various telehealth systems, based on a scalable mobile health system where data from patients is acquired and transmitted via wireless communication networks.
  • Machine learning- Algorithms offer auto-scaling to derive insights from continuously increasing healthcare data.

Adopting forward-thinking strategies becomes imperative as the healthcare industry strives to modernise and improve its services. Embracing reliable and scalable services is the only way to ensure longevity and effective management for the long-term care of patients in the digital age.

To conclude

The journey and ever-evolving complexities of healthcare data mark what we can call the Golden Age of Data Transformation. 

Accessing data wherever it is created and stored is a key priority for any digital transformation strategy. 

As we aim for the improvement of operational efficiency and patient outcomes, prioritising data quality, accessibility and interoperability of systems is non-negotiable. Organisations should focus on building scalable and robust infrastructures to tackle these challenges.

Staying flexible and investing in long-term strategies empower healthcare professionals to navigate the data landscape effectively, ultimately delivering better care for patients. 

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