Understanding the Unique Challenges of Healthcare Data

The term “data” seems to carry with it underlying tones of order, organization and linearity. And while physicians and medical professionals can use data to make sense of chaotic reams of patient information, it takes a deep understanding of the particular challenges that come with healthcare to do so effectively.
The unique demands facing healthcare providers today tie directly into healthcare data, and the ability to access it at the right time.

There Is No Standard for Capturing Data

A big part of the problem is that there is no one-stop-shop for data capture. Depending on what setting the patient is in and who is currently treating them, the healthcare data is captured differently, with no guarantee it will make its way to a centralized system.

Perhaps more troublingly, there is also a lack of standards for data once it is captured. "Semantic interoperability, the ability to exchange data with meaning, is essential as data move from place to place between those who provide, pay for, and benefit from healthcare," explains the American Health Information Management Association. "Problems arise when one term has multiple meanings or when two or more terms refer to the same concept but are not easily recognized as synonyms."

Creating standards both for capturing data and using it meaningfully will be necessary if medical professionals want to serve the highest quality of care.

Data Is All Over

Think the nurse who writes a few facts down on a paper chart, a doctor who inputs data into a computer while talking to a patient, an intern who uses an iPad to record intake information, and a pharmacist who uses a specialized system to organize, fill and record medications. And now there are wearable ways to track patient stats outside clinical settings. While all of these systems have their uses, they’re unfortunately all different.

This troublesome trait leads to a lot of data getting lost, or just plain not seen by subsequent care providers who might really benefit from it. Even though it’s a demanding process, medical professionals who want to offer better care must know where data might also be stored, and hospital or clinic administrators should attempt to streamline various sources of data capture so all professionals know where to look for information.

Data Is Currently Not Well Integrated

The human body is not a set of different parts: liver over here, brain over there, mental health off in the hinterlands. No, these disparate elements work together seamlessly, which makes it obvious that for healthcare records to be reflective of the true human body, they too must by integrated.

Assessing the patient as a whole will lead to much better care, explains Healthcare IT News, but getting there is easier said than done. The ideal is that one day all healthcare data related to an individual patient will be available in one place, where all healthcare professionals can access it at any time. To get there, it will be necessary to integrate in several ways.

For one thing, the teams that collect the data need to work much more closely with the teams who analyze it and the teams that used this streamlined data to implement changes. Only then can those changes happen effectively. It’s also crucial to integrate concepts (related to the above idea of standardizing meaning) as well as technology.

Regulatory Requirements Will Continue to Change

Adding to the burden is the fact that regulations will continue to evolve as more data is added to the system (which it will be), and as our healthcare system undergoes a shift to transparent pricing and value-based healthcare.

If healthcare regulations aren’t integrated, then the data and processes they cover cannot hope to be, unfortunately. Regulations in the future must be more umbrella-like, covering all processes and professionals with standardized expectations, so that every care provider in every setting can meet them in a similar way. Only in doing so can the data itself, and the use that is made of it, become standard as well.

Though it will take time and effort to implement these suggestions, simply being aware of the problems is a step in the right direction.