This article is authored and contributed by Diana Pohle, Strategic Intelligence Professional and a Senior Industry Leader, in collaboration with LeadersWord.
Data is the new buzzword that’s cutting across industries and geographies, however, how is it relevant to healthcare in the modern world?
One of the few silver linings associated with the disastrous COVID-19 pandemic is the fact that it brought out the weaknesses in our systems to the fore, and allowed forward-looking enterprises to rapidly create and test new models. In terms of data, healthcare institutions that were able to either set-up or join data sharing consortiums were able to quickly adapt to latest treatment practices by riding on the flows of data.
The pandemic has shown us, data is the lifeblood of healthcare and access to the right data at the right time can have life or death consequences. However, data’s importance with respect to healthcare goes far beyond managing crisis situations. Large sets of genomic data connected together, can help with prevention and treatment of disease. Programs like The Cancer Genome Atlas (TGCA) and Cancer Moonshot are examples of data being leveraged to save lives across the globe.
With all that said, we still have a long way to go when it comes to establishing a system for data-led collaborations across the healthcare ecosystem. Data fragmentation, compliance, governance and privacy concerns are just some of the challenges that must be overcome before data can be leveraged to its full potential with regards to the healthcare and pharmaceutical industry.
Some of the biggest challenges associated with integrating and leveraging data to drive better patient outcomes in healthcare include:
Data Volume & Complexity:
Unlike data from most other industries, healthcare data comes from a variety of different sources and each dataset could be drastically different from the other, making the job of collating and drawing insights from them insanely complex. However, with modern tools and strategies, it is doable – and worth it – as long as all the stakeholders are on-board.
Compounding the complexity is the massive amount of data that is generated by healthcare institutions. The vertical generates some of the most massive amounts of data in the world, right alongside industries like securities and investments, communications and manufacturing.
Inter- & Intra-organization Silos:
Healthcare data comes from a variety of disparate sources, and lack of an industry-wide standard for healthcare IT leads to silos at an inter- and intra-organization level. EHR technology still has to mature and be widely adopted and with different medical device companies using different architectures. Concerns with pooling data at an inter-organization level also prevent the industry from coming together as a whole to pool and leverage data.
Data Privacy & Security Concerns:
As part of one of the most regulated industries around, healthcare institutions adhere to stringent standards of data privacy and security, especially when it comes to sensitive health data which is protected under HIPAA. On the other hand, researchers, providers and patients all need assurance that the data they are working with is authentic. Both these paths need to converge and healthcare data needs to be made available where it can be used to the greatest effect without compromising patient confidentiality and sanctity.
Together, the data from electronic health records (EHRs), medical imaging, genomic sequencing, payor records, pharmaceutical research, wearables, and medical devices constitutes healthcare big data. The right strategy augmented by the right set of tools can help healthcare providers leverage this massive repository of data to move towards value-based care and drive win-win outcomes for themselves as well as their patients.
Data can be used in numerous ways to improve healthcare. Some of the more prominent are as follows:
Patients that have chronic diseases need to engage in management strategies, and follow treatment plans to maintain their health while simultaneously keeping care costs low. This self-managed care when augmented with data and insights allow patients to independently keep track of and actively engage in their health.
Better Tools for Healthcare Professionals
From helping healthcare leadership leverage real-time data to design efficient and empathetic customer journeys to generating insights into nuances such as beds at specific care levels, equipment available and staffing requirements and helping physicians access patient records, diagnosis and treatment history with a few clicks, data is helping healthcare professionals reinvent service delivery for patients for the better.
Healthcare analytics provides new methods to evaluate the performance and effectiveness of healthcare practitioners at the point of delivery, it can also be used to provide ongoing feedback on healthcare physicians. Analytics can help also identify patterns that lead to a better understanding of patient health, while interconnected healthcare records can enable physicians to provide detailed information that can help cut costs by reducing unnecessary care.
Improved Research Efficiency
And it doesn’t stop here. Data is also being used in pharmaceutical research in the form of predictive modeling, with pharma companies using clinical and molecular data to help develop drugs that are safer, and more effective.
Clinical trials are also being optimized by choosing patients through the use of data and can be analyzed quickly through big data. This means that patients studied under the trial are selected based on their genetic makeup, which makes it easier to target specific groups of people that have genetic concerns or health issues, allowing trials with smaller sample sizes to reach towards higher success rate, lower expenses, and faster speeds.
From cutting down development costs and timelines for new drugs and treatments through data pooling by healthcare institutions to , the benefits of healthcare data can be measured in the number of lives saved, beyond monetary benefits for institutions as well as patients.
While there are challenges associated with leveraging data to its fullest potential in healthcare, there are workarounds as well. For instance healthcare institutes can share data with other providers with the patient’s consent, and the data can be anonymized if required to ensure that patient privacy is not compromized at any point.
Electronic Health Records (EHR) are a great way to collaborate with other healthcare institutes to improve patient care. EHR allows medical information to be shared easily and seamlessly, avoiding unnecessary questions, tests, and procedures and helps make the diagnosis and treatment process smoother for both patient and physician. But, this can only be achieved with data-led collaborations.
Sharing data will exponentially improve the quality of care being delivered, enhance physician-patient engagement, drive healthcare and pharmaceutical research and allow better, more-informed patient-oriented decisions.
Pharmaceutical giant UCB is a great example of data-led collaborations. Based in Brussels, it has 8500+ employees spread across 40 countries. The company has launched several initiatives to enable direct communications with groups of patients that suffer from specific diseases. The patients collaborate with UCB in designing new strategies for treating diseases by sharing real-time information about their situation and response to treatment. This helps the company constantly improve its products by leveraging this feedback loop, while also allowing the patients to receive relevant information about the disease they are battling, including about breakthrough treatments.
Humans have always been stronger and more capable together. Sharing healthcare data with each other to build massive sources of truths will save us the trouble of reinventing the wheel multiple times. By drawing and building upon the progress taking place across healthcare and pharmaceutical institutions at a global level through data-led collaborations, we will be able to invent and innovate faster and save lives in the process.