If you’re of a certain age, you had the opportunity to experience life before the Internet – the days before email, Facebook, and online shopping. If you wanted to send a note to your old buddy from high school, you’d pen a letter, stick a 15-cent stamp on an envelope and drop it in the mail. You might make a few purchases from a mail-order catalog, but do most of your shopping at a brick-and-mortar store.
The Internet allows us to find just about everything we’ve ever wanted within one or two Google searches. Amazon alone sells over 400 million unique products, and continues to add more and more items every month. Even with so many choices, Amazon has figured out ways for shoppers to find exactly what they are looking for in a matter of seconds.
Can you imagine how frustrating the Amazon shopping experience would be without all those sophisticated search tools?
It might be as challenging as finding a needle in a haystack. Or if you are a clinician, it might be as difficult as searching volumes of clinical records to locate a specific piece of information that is relevant for a specific patient with a specific medical condition.
More data, new challenges
Healthcare data is proliferating at an estimated rate of 48% annually, with the total volume expected to reach 2,314 exabytes by the year 2020. That’s 2,314 billion gigabytes of clinical information that could advance patient care – or, that could be of limited value if we don’t give providers ready-access to the data they need when delivering patient care.
Thanks to advances in technology, we now have mountains of clinical data and more opportunities to securely exchange information between providers. Yet despite the huge strides, we still have technology gaps that diminish the quality of patient care.
The proliferation of clinical data has created a new challenge: How to make all that data useful to providers at the point of care. Providing physicians with data alone will not measurably improve patient care – especially if the information is not easy to verify for accuracy or duplication. What providers do need is quality clinical information that offers insight into a patient’s medical history and current problems. Data is just data – and not actionable information – unless it is logically compiled and transformed into information.
Consider a typical patient exam. In addition to reviewing details in the practice’s EHR, a clinician may also want to obtain supplemental information from a health information exchange (HIE). If the patient had recently been admitted to the local hospital, the provider might access the hospital’s EHR to review those records.
Depending on the complexity of the patient’s health and treatment, the physician may end up with an overwhelming amount of data that requires considerable time to organize and interpret. A provider who is evaluating a patient in the exam room may inadvertently overlook critical clinical data because the relevant details are difficult to identify amongst the mounds of available information.
Organizing data in the Internet age
Locating relevant patient data does not need to be as difficult as finding a needle in a haystack. Healthcare is far more complex than online shopping, but we can still steal a page from Amazon and find ways to more efficiently organize our billions of gigabytes of data.
As the volume of healthcare data continues to grow, we must leverage technology to intelligently identify and interpret disorganized and complex arrays of medical information. We need the ability to convert the information into structured, actionable formats that are relevant and easy to access during patient encounters. We must also provide a means to deliver this filtered, high-value information to physicians at the point of care and within their standard workflows.
The Internet has transformed our world – and we must also transform the healthcare world by transmuting our wealth of data into purposeful, contextual information that enhances clinician decision-making and empowers physicians to deliver better care.
David Lareau is the Chief Executive Officer of Medicomp Systems., a physician-driven provider of clinically contextual patient data solutions. Lareau joined Medicomp in 1995 and has responsibility for operations and product management, including customer relations and marketing. Prior to joining Medicomp, Lareau founded a company that installed management communication networks in large enterprises such as The World Bank, DuPont and Sinai Hospital in Baltimore.