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Managing Healthcare Data in the Cloud: Getting to a Common Language

From a healthcare technology standpoint, we live in a marvelous time. Never before has so much health information been amassed from so many sources to better the lives of entire populations of people.

More than 72 percent of physicians are entering patient data into electronic health records (EHRs), for example, making it easier to share that data with other clinicians, pharmacists, researchers and caregivers. In addition, a broad spectrum of devices and specialty software applications in the hospital are making their contributions, and patients themselves are adding to the amount of data being collected on their health through patient portals, in-home devices, wearables and apps downloaded to their phones.

Yet even if all this data is made accessible in one place (which is rarely the case), there is still a significant barrier to its use: the multitude of formats used to capture that data.

To understand the impact this issue has, imagine being assigned to a complex IT project with 10 expert colleagues, each of whom speaks a different language—and only that language. All the knowledge required to complete the project is contained within that group, but there is virtually no ability to share it unless each participant hires translators to work with all the other participants. For the first several months, more time will likely be spent attempting to overcome the language barriers than actually accomplishing the assignment.

It is the same with healthcare data. Even solutions that fall into the same category—such as EHRs—often have their own mutually exclusive formats and interpretations of standards. This means there will be a lot of work to do just to make the data usable before clinical teams can even begin deriving insights that can improve the health of individual patients or populations.

Shortcut through the cloud

This is an area where a HIPAA-compliant, cloud-based provider can add substantial value. Consider that before an internal team can translate all this data into a universal format, they must first learn all the different languages, so to speak. They have to visualize the connections and understand how data in all these different formats map to the analytics applications they want to use. When a new device from a different manufacturer is added to the mix, the process must be repeated before it can be added.

Having to learn and map data from all these different formats is not only time-consuming, it distracts internal IT resources from higher-value work. It also requires an intensive effort to gain knowledge that, once this project is completed, probably won’t be needed again.

A healthcare-only cloud provider should already possess this knowledge as it is a part of their core business. They will have the mechanisms in place to transform, normalize and synthesize data from disparate sources—including clinical, financial, patient satisfaction, pharmaceutical, imaging and other systems—into a comprehensive data environment that can be used by whatever analytics applications your organization uses.

Transforming the data in this way not only makes it more useful internally. It also allows it to be shared more easily across the healthcare continuum—with health information exchanges, partners in the community and others that can help the healthcare organization achieve its goals. This transformation should take place while continuing to maintain the highest standards for data privacy and security.

The result is a significant shortcut to making all that data being accumulated useful, helping healthcare organizations achieve the Institute for Health Improvement’s (IHI) Triple Aim of improving health, lowering costs and improving the patient experience.

Making sense of the noise

Healthcare organizations have never had access to more potentially life-changing and industry-changing data. Yet without a way to transform it into a usable, shareable environment, it’s just so much unintelligible babble.

By working with a healthcare-dedicated cloud provider, healthcare organizations can shorten the transformation process and get to actionable information much faster. And that’s a competitive advantage in any language.