Imagine a giant clock where each single cog wheel contributes to displaying the time accurately. In this complex web of machinery, individual cogs can break, and the clock stops – rendering it useless. Healthcare organizations are at risk of facing a similar fate as they encounter fragmented IT infrastructures with disconnected data environments and silos. Failure to address this growing issue could have serious consequences, leading systems to falter sooner than anticipated.
In a recent survey, 63% of health system executives believe designating ownership of provider data will improve care coordination. Yet only 18% of organizations reported having a dedicated data governance department. Now, ungoverned data comes with massive costs: The 2018 Black Book survey found that duplicate medical records could cost an average of $1950 per patient per inpatient stay and more than $800 per ED visit.
Healthcare organizations are currently losing the opportunity to proactively engage patients, which has adverse effects on patient experience, care quality, prevention, and ultimately their financial performance. As digital transformation accelerates, healthcare must take action against data mismanagement before it becomes too late.
Let’s take a closer look at the challenges systems face and how they can work to create a unified experience for patients, staff, and even third parties.
Why data fragmentation is peaking in 2023
Even before the pandemic, many health systems had begun investing in digital tools, such as online scheduling systems, patient intake, and workflow efficiency tools. In 2020, 38% of HIEs said they have 31 or more EHR and information systems in their IT environment, according to eHI and NextGate. The percentage has only been growing since, as the pandemic forced health systems to adopt even more new tools, including telemedicine and digital communications. Now, health systems struggle to fit these new tools into their existing technology landscape and integrate all these data points with traditional electronic health record systems.
As a direct consequence, healthcare data is incredibly fragmented. Today, many pieces of the puzzle often reside in different departments, with different managers, on multiple dashboards and platforms, and in various systems – and are on the brink of getting lost. Let’s look at three major consequences fragmentation could have.
- You can’t meet patient expectations anymore
Today’s patients expect their data to be brought together cohesively, accompanied by personalized experiences and contextual engagement. Ideally, they would prefer to access all essential health data, personal inquiries, and administrative information within a single, seamless experience.
Unfortunately, when patients book appointments or report symptoms using healthcare websites or communication platforms, their data often ends up in marketing or disappears altogether instead of being accurately attributed to their electronic health records. This results in missing patient information, duplicate appointments, and data errors – leading to a negative impression of the healthcare system’s reliability. These issues can result in patient churn and negative HCAHPS scores, ultimately affecting the healthcare organization’s reputation and bottom line.
- Bad data quality will affect care delivery & efficiency
Accurate data management is crucial for healthcare systems to assist physicians and staff in making better and faster decisions. If data is inaccurately managed, health systems may miss opportunities to support patient care or gain efficiency, having severe consequences for patients, including possible misdiagnosis, inappropriate medications, duplicate tests, and medical or legal issues. For instance, imagine a patient is discharged from the hospital after surgery and reports fever symptoms via the hospital website. This information must be correctly recorded in the patient’s health record and trigger prompt action by hospital staff to schedule an urgent appointment. Failure to do so may result in costly lawsuits or reputational damage.
- You risk security breaches or leaks of sensitive information
Lastly, poor data handling can leave the system vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks. Having data in several third-party systems increases the breadth of exposure for hackers to steal sensitive data.
Nearly 50 million Americans were affected by health data breaches in 2022, and recent breaches like those at NexusHealth and Cerebral shake us to the core when we think of the consequences that will befall health systems – from lawsuits to lost patients to high costs.
So how can organizations avoid any of these issues? Let’s look closer at how health systems can reduce and, finally, end fragmentation.
Steps toward a unified data system
To unify their technology infrastructure, organizations must first understand where their current data systems are disconnected and where integration is required. This involves identifying the specific areas where patients may leave a data trail that is not accurately recorded. It also entails identifying errors or duplications in EHR and third-party systems that may arise due to poor data management practices.
Map your existing patient engagement journey
Gather your team and follow customers’ various patient journeys to engage with your organization, whether calling for an appointment, using an online scheduling platform, or seeking assistance from your care coordination team. Mapping out customer journeys across your digital and physical engagement points will help pinpoint areas needing unification and provide a clear perspective of where your organization lacks integration.
Plan the ideal engagement touchpoints
The second step is to create a roadmap for consolidating existing patient engagement silos into a patient journey system of interaction that securely bolts onto your EHR. This involves determining how the tools you use integrate with your EHR today and deciding which data needs to be transferred to prioritize customer needs.
Semantic patient interactions – online or offline – must be planned into the new IT infrastructure. It’s essential to identify valuable engagement data and exclude irrelevant information. Modern, AI-driven CRM systems can collect and analyze data to extract meaningful insights and present them in a unified view.
The ultimate goal is to have a comprehensive yet practical patient record accessible to all stakeholders, including administrative staff, physicians, insurers, referring physicians, patients, and caregivers. If everyone can access exactly the information they need (not more, not less), it leads to successful outcomes for all.
Build an interoperable infrastructure
A healthy data infrastructure requires real-time data sharing through APIs and connected interfaces. This establishes robust interoperability, enabling the electronic exchange of patient data between caregivers and other authorized parties across electronic health records (EHRs) and other systems, thereby enhancing care delivery. Additionally, it amplifies the ROI of your existing EHR investments.
Privacy and security are the hallmarks of any efficient data exchange system. Ensuring that any shared, transferred, and stored information is compliant with HIPAA and is efficiently encrypted is paramount, as is securing the data from leaks or attacks. Employing sensitive data intelligence (AI) and implementing automated reporting mechanisms such as audit logs to monitor any improper or unsafe sharing of data is key.
Unifying engagement data into a single platform instead of just connecting different tools through APIs could help achieve a patient-centered experience that prioritizes data quality and secures patient data. This involves utilizing a single, AI-driven CRM that can receive, process, and analyze data across the organization.
Though it may seem like a daunting task to implement such a platform, there are intuitive and easy-to-install platforms with the same variety of tools that healthcare leaders can acquire at a relatively low operational cost. Such platforms allow healthcare systems to attain an excellent operational and cost-effective patient-centric view.
Deploy a customer-centric data culture for the future
Moving forward, healthcare organizations may encounter a new challenge – the emergence of new tools in the market, which could further fragment the data ecosystem. Building and practicing a culture of patient-centricity within the organization is essential to overcome this challenge. Picking technologies aligned with patient needs in a simple and convenient manner is paramount.
Adopting a patient-centric approach aligns business goals such as revenue, cost savings, or efficiency using technology to achieve them, ultimately leading to a satisfying experience for patients. In turn, this enhanced patient experience contributes to higher revenue and returning customers, making customer-centricity a vital principle of future action.
About Sridhar Yerramreddy
Sridhar Yerramreddy is the founder and CEO of Steer Health, a user-friendly AI-powered healthcare growth and automation platform. Coming from a family of esteemed physicians, Sridhar is deeply invested in spearheading efforts to leverage AI to personalize patient care, streamline medical workflows, and transform how we perceive and experience healthcare.