The Challenges of Turning Healthcare Data into Better Patient Outcomes

September 18, 2020
September 21, 2020

Intensive care patients are connected to several monitoring devices, all rapidly collecting information. But how is that information used? The world of healthcare data is quickly advancing, but healthcare providers are still encountering limitations when it comes to turning the data they collect into action. Every health system wants to empower its doctors and nurses with the information they need to improve patient outcomes. They are finding innovative ways to conquer the roadblocks to achieving it.

Advanced Analytics for Patient Care

One of the most exciting uses of data are in Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) advancements. For example, there are ongoing initiatives to reduce the problem of alarm fatigue in ICUs to make alarms more useful. Data can help identify the most critical alarms so that providers can focus on events with real impact. Beyond just identifying the most effective ways to treat an adverse event after it's happened, advanced analytics tools like ML and AI are also beginning to "learn" which actions to proactively take, allowing health systems to prevent an event from happening at all.

However, reaching use cases like these and implementing advanced data tools is a process that happens in steps. Depending on the data maturity level, some healthcare organizations may have a longer or shorter road ahead. It's a new frontier for many providers, many of whom rely primarily on one internal development group to support their needs. It's not uncommon for groups within the organization to compete with each other for time from their internal developers. Large health systems can also become siloed, with departments out of sync with one another and unable to form a cohesive data strategy that serves all.

Understanding Healthcare Data Challenges

Here are some other challenges that health systems commonly face when it comes to making patient data useful:

Uneven Investment

Sometimes organizations make data investments piecemeal, focusing on individual solutions that benefit one portion of the organization or just one select group. Other times, investments are made that are believed to be useful for the entire organization but lack features or adjustments required to serve groups who didn't get a chance to give feedback on the solution.

For example, an updated cardiology device that only serves adult patients may leave pediatric groups unable to benefit. Within just the ICU category, different types of ICUs (such as neonatal, cardiac, etc.) have differing capabilities and needs. There can be many competing and conflicting needs from group to group.

Vendor Issues

Different patient monitors have different vendors, each offering varying capabilities as far as the data provided. Graphing thresholds may be different than usual, giving visual data an unfamiliar look, or making the data more difficult to read and interpret.

Vendors may not prioritize diverse interoperability, creating a situation where monitors don't work well together and the data cannot be integrated into a complete view of the patient's status.

The Need for Continuous Improvement

No matter how advanced an organization's data analytics capabilities, continuous improvement is always needed. From tools and technology to processes and people, every aspect of a data strategy should constantly strive for better results – especially in healthcare, where better results mean healthier patients.

More Advanced Approaches Present New Challenges

A more advanced and practical approach to ICU care and support is having an off-site data center reviewing ICU patient data and sharing alerts and treatment suggestions with the clinicians on location based on insights from advanced analytics tools. While a step further than many health systems have gone, this more sophisticated approach still has its challenges and presents endless opportunities for improvement. A couple of examples of the benefits and challenges involved with having an external monitoring center:

Benefit: Especially in an ICU environment, events often occur in a split second when no one is watching. It's beneficial for a provider to find out what happened from the monitor in that exact moment, but that isn't always possible in the ICU at the device. The external monitoring center provides a hub to collect that information and make it available.

Challenge: Effectiveness depends on whether the data comes in real-time from the monitor and how quickly the information can be shared back to clinicians to aid in decision-making.

Benefit: When a significant event happens, like a patient coding, the clinicians in the room are busy taking action and don't have time to stop and record what they're doing. There is typically one person in the room assigned to record treatment actions. An external monitoring group can handle that for clinicians so they can focus on treating the patient.

Challenge: Current standards and best practices require a nurse to validate all readings and entries into the record. This means the external monitoring group experiences the same delay in logging real-time data during serious events that a standard ICU experiences when they do it the old-fashioned way.

Addressing Healthcare Data Challenges

Even if one provider has achieved better results through advanced analytics projects, it may not be easy for other organizations to achieve the same. Here are some ways health systems are addressing the challenges of turning healthcare data into meaningful action that influences patient outcomes:

Addressing Uneven Investment

A more holistic, big-picture approach to investment can be beneficial, especially considering how other portions of the organization may benefit. Investment decisions should include diving into the details to actively seek to understand other groups' needs and gain their buy-in. Keeping an eye toward possible future needs can also be a big investment saver in the long-term.

It's worthwhile to focus some investment on general IT infrastructure to give your team more agility and open up the possibilities for more advanced and impactful projects in the future. The capabilities offered by available data tools is essential, as well as the user experience and reliability of the data. Choosing updatable and customizable tools that work well with one another is an example of a worthwhile IT infrastructure investment.

Addressing Vendor Issues

Health systems and their partners must be advocates on behalf of clinicians and patients when it comes to interoperability. Providers who have taken a strong stance in encouraging vendors to embrace interoperability have been able to advance more quickly toward their data goals – and their goals as providers. When health systems can integrate their data, their clinicians are empowered to drive better care outcomes.

Sharing health data with other providers to support patients wherever they receive care is also a critical capability. In terms of population health management, it can drive better health outcomes for those most at risk for adverse outcomes.

Addressing the Need for Continuous Improvement

Investing in IT infrastructure allows your organization to scale its capabilities as new opportunities and needs arise. Effective investments enable continuous improvement when they aim to achieve these basics of data enablement:

  • Implement proper master data management and governance practices
  • Enable data cleansing to ensure quality and reliability
  • Ensure data is well integrated and housed within systems that communicate well with one another
  • Ensure up-to-date real-time data is easily accessible
  • Offer training and support to propel the team toward greater data literacy

It is mission-critical to adequately understand how health care providers need data delivered. This approach can help prevent or at least mitigate issues such as varied graph thresholds or distorted data visualizations. Combining this understanding with a focus on data enablement helps organizations eliminate the roadblocks to improving outcomes with data.

How to Address Your Organization's Healthcare Data Challenges

Despite rapid advances in healthcare data and technology, there are many varied and complicated challenges involved in turning data into action. Providers are adapting and finding practical and innovative ways to address these challenges head-on. New technologies also frequently emerge to make the use of data simple for experts and beginners alike. Onebridge has experience helping organizations address these challenges so they can empower their clinicians and researchers to focus on what they do best – saving lives.

If you'd like to learn more about how to address your organization's healthcare data challenges, contact us. We've served some of the largest healthcare entities in the U.S. for over 14 years and are experts in providing highly specialized data analytics and enterprise app development consulting and skills. We offer flexible delivery options to suit your unique needs alongside extensive healthcare industry experience.

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