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The Knee Bone's Connected to the Data Bone

Good information and analytics are vital to enabling organizations of all stripes to survive tumultuous changes in the healthcare landscape. The latest issue of TDWI’s What Works in Healthcare focuses on data-driven transformations in healthcare. I wrote an article for the issue that looks at some of the business intelligence and analytics issues surrounding the transition from a traditional, fee-for-service system to a value-based, “continuum of care” approach. One thing is clear: The importance of data and information integration as the fabric of this approach cannot be overstated.

A continuum (or “continuity”) of care is where a patient’s care experiences are connected across multiple providers: doctors, therapists, clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, and so on, including social programs. The traditional, fee-based approach has encouraged a disconnected experience for patients; visits to providers are mutually exclusive events and their patient data also lives in disparate silos. This disconnect increases the risk of patients getting the wrong treatments, taking medications improperly due to poor follow-up, or falling through the cracks entirely until there is an emergency. When patients only engage with healthcare when there is an emergency, costs go up. If there is poor follow-up after a hospital or emergency care visit, there is a greater likelihood that patients will have to be readmitted soon for the same problem.

Information integration plays a key role in the business model convergence that many experts envision as essential to improving care. “We see new partnerships or communities of care forming to improve collaboration across boundaries,” said Karen Parrish, IBM VP of Industry Solutions for the Public Sector during a recent conversation about IBM’s Smarter Care. IBM’s ambitious program, announced in May, “enables new business and financial models that encourage interaction among government and social programs, healthcare practitioners and facilities, insurers, employers, life sciences companies and citizens themselves,” according to the company. Improving the continuum of a particular patient’s care among these participants will require good quality data and fewer barriers to the flow of information so that the right caregivers are involved, depending on the circumstances.

At the center of this information flow must be the patient. “Access to the unprecedented amount of data available today creates an opportunity for deeper insight and earlier intervention and engagement with the patient,” said Parrish. This includes unstructured data, such as doctor’s notes. In an insightful interview with TDWI’s Linda Briggs, Ted Corbett, founder of Vizual Outcomes (and a speaker at the upcoming TDWI BI Executive Summit in San Diego) points out that while unstructured data “houses some of the richest data in the hospital system…there is little consistency across providers in note format, which makes it difficult to access this rich store of information.”

To improve the speed and quality of unstructured data analysis, IBM puts forth its cognitive computing engine Watson, which understands natural language. While Watson and cognitive computing are topics for another day, it’s clear that when we talk about information integration in healthcare, we have to remember that the vast majority of this information is unstructured. There will be increasing demand to apply machine learning and other computing power to draw intelligence from an integrated view of multiple sources of this information to improve patient care and treatment.


Posted by David Stodder on July 17, 2013


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