In this article, Eva Murray is focusing on healthcare, looking at:
- The common data challenges healthcare organizations are facing
- How to overcome these hurdles through smart use of technology
The data value chain goes all the way from data capture and collection to reporting and sharing of information and actionable insights. As data doesn’t differentiate between industries, different sectors go through the same stages to gain value from it. There are, however, some challenges that are unique to the healthcare industry. Once addressed they can open up great opportunities for healthcare organizations to get even better at serving their patients, develop sustainable, long-term solutions and drive innovation in their field.
In this article I explore these opportunities and how they can be turned into action by data and analytics leaders and those passionate to drive positive change.
Common data challenges faced by healthcare organizations
To start off, let’s establish the challenges many healthcare organizations face when working with data.
Poor Data Quality
At the data capture stage, healthcare organizations experience poor data quality. Like in other industries, part of the problem is processes for frontline workers, which require time-consuming data collection in situations which can be urgent, high-pressured and stressful. The effects of incomplete or inaccurate data are felt further down the value chain during the data preparation, cleansing and analysis stages.
While modern data preparation tools can help with advanced methods of tackling poor data quality, dealing with the cause, rather than the symptoms is necessary for organizations that want to resolve this issue in the long-term. I have previously written about data quality and how to connect the key people in the process to improve the quality of your data from the source all the way to your reports. You can find those recommendations and ideas for establishing effective feedback loops in this article.
As healthcare providers continue to collect, manage and use increasing volumes of data, the question of where data is stored, managed and processed needs to be resolved.
Where to store, manage and process data
Traditionally, on-premise solutions were the preferred and sometimes only choice for healthcare organizations, due to regulatory requirements as well as the initial hesitation by patients and customers to have their data in the cloud. Over time trust has grown in cloud providers. As they’ve evolved and improved their offerings, adding more bespoke and flexible solutions that take into account the unique requirements of the healthcare industry, the cloud has emerged as a flexible, cost-effective option and a viable solution. Aside from the ‘where’ in terms of infrastructure, there is also the question of ‘where’ in terms of technology. What is the right solution for healthcare providers that need their data to be unquestionably secure while also being accessible in a solution that achieves the desired business outcomes?
Piedmont Healthcare, based in the Atlanta Metro area in the US, wanted their data to give them more than insights. They wanted it to enable them to remove the risk of infection for patients entering their hospitals and used data and analytics to achieve this mission. You can read more about Piedmont Healthcare’s data challenges and how they addressed them here.
With the sensitive nature of patient data comes a strong focus and regulatory control of data security. Stringent measures are required to ensure that personal information is securely stored and managed. The right systems and processes are essential but there is also a need for every person to play their role and take responsibility for keeping data and information safe. Data security can easily be compromised through seemingly minor actions (or inactions) by people who have access to confidential information and who don’t safeguard this access carefully.
Processes, people and technology need to be integrated effectively by any organization that wants to keep its data secure. Healthcare providers can address the challenge of data security by establishing roles such as data security officers. Providing ongoing data security training to upskill people and help them understand risks and dangers, helps them to further manage data security proactively in an effort to prevent breaches and their consequences.
Make the most of the analysis stage
As the data in organizations moves along to the analysis stage, healthcare providers face the challenge of maximizing its value. They need to find answers to their questions, ensure the right data is available to analysts for their investigation and that people have the necessary tools to carry out their analysis.
The community of data analysts is growing thanks to the improved and simplified access to information, training resources and education on the topic. Healthcare organizations should support their data analysts with additional training and development opportunities. As a result, their team will develop the subject matter expertise required to truly maximize the impact of their work with data.
How can technology help overcome these challenges?
Focusing on people and processes can address a large part of the above challenges, but when it comes to data, technology must be considered as part of the solution.
Automate key processes
Tools and systems can automate processes effectively and remove a lot of risk and uncertainty that may arise from the potential for human error.
Such automation can be used in the data cleansing process to clean large amounts of data with valid business rules and to transform the data into valuable and usable outputs for analysis. Leading vendors of data integration and preparation tools continue innovating and improving their products to help organizations make the process as effective and well-integrated as possible. Using the right technology solution can be transformative for the analytics processes and the people involved.
Find the right tools for the right job
Another area where technology can genuinely make a big difference are the analytics tools that data professionals use for their analyses. Personal preferences aside, the different solutions available in the market today are a far cry from the limitations of spreadsheets and manual processes of years and decades past.
To help analysts become more effective in their role, healthcare providers need to ensure their people have the right tools to do their jobs. These software solutions should be equipped with capabilities that make them intuitive to use and incorporate best practices as a default. This will make it easier for analysts to produce information-rich outputs that are easy to understand and accessible to their audience.
Take a hybrid approach to deployment
Hybrid solutions for cloud and on-premises deployments can address the unique requirements of the healthcare sector including compliance with regulatory requirements. This is another area where technology can help resolve data challenges healthcare providers face. An effective data strategy and data architecture takes into account the non-negotiable requirements that may dictate an on-premise solution for parts of the architecture. It also considers the need for flexibility to integrate additional data sources, service a larger user base and scale computing resources up and down according to business needs. Healthcare providers can use technology to strike a balance between the stringent requirements that protect patient data and the desire to flexibly operate their business and achieve a truly data-driven culture that supports frontline workers in their care for patients.
Build knowledge-based communities
Lastly, technology can help healthcare organizations improve the connection between colleagues and peers within the organization and the wider industry to aid continuous learning and development. Communication tools like instant messengers, online forums and video conferencing solutions make it easier for colleagues to connect across geographical boundaries. Bringing people together so they can collaboratively work on solutions to data and business questions is easier now than ever before.
While many knowledge workers are currently experiencing a little bit of Zoom fatigue due to being home office based for several months, there are also great opportunities to use people’s familiarity with such tools and to formalize ways for them to connect, exchange ideas and learn from one another. This in turn can pave the way for closely integrated departments, working hand in hand and producing better outcomes for patients (through well-informed frontline staff who have easy access to reliable data and insights) and the business (where people can utilize comprehensive reports, packed with information and actionable insights). You can read more about building connected, thriving analytics communities here.
Tackling the questions of data storage, processing and management, while also addressing data quality challenges and keeping data secure are by no means trivial tasks. But developing the right solutions that integrate people, processes and technology means that the downstream activities that form part of the data value chain, can deliver significant added value. Creating an environment where the investment in analytics brings a high return is something I’ll discuss in the upcoming article, ‘Creating the data-driven skills and mindset your healthcare organization needs’.
Eva Murray, Technology Evangelist, Exasol