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Overcoming Data Fragmentation Is Key to Unlocking Value in Healthcare


How healthcare organizations and providers can better use data.

It’s no secret that healthcare has a waste and underperformance problem associated with data access. Even after decades of digitalization, providers and patients still struggle to get relevant information when and where they need it. The root cause is the persistent challenge of both business and IT system fragmentation.

In 2018, close to a third of patients experienced a noticeable gap in their health information, according to the Office of the National Coordinator. Missing test results, repeated procedures, gaps and delays in care are a clear indication that the billions of dollars we’ve invested in health IT systems haven’t done enough yet to create actionable access to the data clinicians need to care for patients most effectively.

The history of fragmentation in healthcare is long and complex—a perfect study of the interplay between market forces, regulatory action, organizational behavior and misaligned incentives. The good news is that we see the incentives aligning, but the fragmentation of systems remains. While many brilliant minds have been working hard on the question of interoperability and getting data moving to where it ought to be, we need to look beyond the basics of connecting the pipes if we are going to achieve true value from all this time, effort and money.

To generate true value for patients, providers and payers, we must always know precisely what to do next for a patient without having to work hard to identify what that should be, which requires seamless delivery of relevant information when providers need it most. Only then will we be able to achieve the Quadruple Aim of healthcare: improved outcomes for individuals, enhanced health for populations, reduced spending and better experiences for providers across the healthcare workforce. Through advanced analytics, the knowledge of what should be done is now available. Delivering that knowledge within the care delivery workflow in a relevant, impactful and desirable way is the challenge before us all now.

Creating value out of the volume

By now, healthcare providers are familiar with the concept of moving from volume to value. Value-based care is shifting healthcare away from the “heads in beds” mentality by providing incentives for improved quality, lower costs and higher patient satisfaction.

We have to make the same shift when thinking about healthcare data. Instead of showering the user/provider with endless reams of reports, readouts and irrelevant data, we must ensure that information is contextually and situationally relevant to both the user/provider and the process that individual is executing right at that moment.

By working toward the precision delivery of information, we can avoid the frustration and intellectual burnout that comes with having to sift through hundreds of pages of data scattered across multiple screens, portals and systems. As a result, providers will be able to embrace the idea of value instead of volume when making everyday decisions that will impact the larger success of their practices and patients.

Reducing resistance to change with intuitive tools

We must overcome two major challenges before we can achieve this vision of value. The first is the fragmentation of data that creates the need to jump between interfaces and manually synthesize information to make decisions. The second is the natural human urge to avoid doing just that.

Behavior change is hard to teach, harder to learn and exceedingly difficult to maintain unless the change can lead to an easier, quicker and more favorable outcome. Designing tools that inject information strategically and seamlessly into what providers are already doing can complement the existing user experience and enhance the workflow instead of becoming an extra burden on busy users.

In essence, clinicians need a context-sensitive, data-driven “personal assistant” that can understand what data they want and then retrieve only those data from wherever they may live. It needs to be prioritized in relation to the task at hand and presented in a familiar, intuitive and meaningful manner.

Eliminating the need to switch from workflow to workflow enables clinicians to spend more of their cognitive capital on relationships with their patients and focus on addressing their unique needs.

Looking forward to actionable, value-driven healthcare

Bridging the gaps between disparate systems will allow the healthcare industry to take the next step in value-based care. With technologies to overcome data fragmentation, we can further reinforce and align the financial incentives of value-based care with the ability to deliver informed, contextualized quality in every step of the workflow, with less effort.

Clinicians will be able to improve the consistency of their decisions, which will further drive out waste. Patient outcomes will improve, practices will be able to achieve their value-based care goals and providers will experience increased satisfaction from serving their patients in an effective, personalized manner.

By reducing the fragmentation of workflows, we can support more efficient care while meeting the industry where it is in terms of health information exchange and basic interoperability. Enhancing the user experience with precisely delivered information is key to making data actionable and putting easier, smarter healthcare within reach of us all, making healthcare better for everyone.

Jon Zimmerman is the chief executive officer of Holon Solutions.

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