Data Integration and the Healthcare Industry
According to Health Data Management, “ ‘Despite the widespread adoption of electronic health records, the integration of healthcare data remains a critical challenge for the industry as it strives to achieve interoperability,’ said Karen DeSalvo, MD, National Coordinator for Health IT.”
The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) chief pointed to HL7’s Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) as an open health data standard that offers a promising approach to meeting the demand for semantic interoperability. This also should minimize the need for metadata translation services, which is fundamental to most data integration technologies.
She said, “FHIR seeks to address the lack of a universal terminology standard that continues to be a major barrier to communication between different EHR systems and the ability to derive clinical meaning from data.”
At the same time, healthcare organizations need to understand that true data integration will require a change in the culture of data sharing in the healthcare industry. It’s been my experience that my healthcare clients looking at data integration default on holding tightly to data, with the fear being HIPAA or have challenges around privacy.
A few things need to change before the healthcare vertical can take advantage of data integration.
First, there needs to be a fundamental understanding of the laws around data privacy, and other rules and regulations. Many organizations operate under the assumption that all data is protected, and that integration, by its very pattern, will unprotect it. Both assumptions are false.
Second, decision makers need to realize that embracing data integration technology will result in much better care. By the sharing of data, automatic checks and balances are in place. For instance, a cardiologist could spot a drug reaction on an EKG, based upon information coming into the cardiologist’s system from the patient’s GP. Or, the ability to spot patterns that could be leading to a stroke through the use of a wearable device. The number of lifesaving use cases are too long to list.
Finally, there needs to be a culture of data sharing amongst care providers who have traditionally protected data and purposely kept it separated and confidential. This means that the data generated, while managed and protected, is still shared among authorized entities. Of course, we need good layers of security and governance, but those are solvable problems.
Data sharing in the world of healthcare is what many like to call “life critical.” As we get better at healthcare and live longer, the need to provide a consistent view of patient data is the real problem to solve.
That said, there needs to be more of a “fire in the belly” approach to data integration in the healthcare vertical. This means that a much better effort needs to be put forward, including just getting started with the planning. If that does not happen soon, then we’re all at risk.