Where big data falls short

Despite the desire to identify challenges and gauge progress, healthcare organizations have had only small pockets of success doing so thus far.
By Jack McCarthy
10:22 AM
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Big data and analytic tools have not yet been harnessed to bring meaningful improvement to the healthcare industry.

That's according to a new report from the National Quality Forum outlining the challenges to making health data and analytics more usable and available in real time for providers and consumers.

Whereas big data has supported improvement in certain settings, such as reducing ventilator-acquired pneumonia, data analytics has been largely overlooked in the area of healthcare costs, even though this data can inform and assess efforts to improve the affordability and quality of care.

What's more, effective data management is necessary for the success of other incentives to enhance care, such as payment programs, as providers need timely information to understand where to improve and track their progress.

NQF found multiple challenges to making better use of health information, such as interoperability and linking disparate data sources, leveraging data for benchmarking, providing the ability to gather data directly from patients and de-identify it to generate knowledge, and the need to ensure that the data itself is trustworthy.

Then there's the matter of electronic health records software. "While greater EHR adoption is positive, these records do not contain all of the data needed for improvement," the report said. NQF pointed to operational or clinical data not captured in an EHR, such as the time a nurse spends caring for a particular patient or the time to transfer a patient from surgery to a post-operative recovery unit to a hospital room, as common examples.

The report noted there have been many ongoing attempts to develop interoperability between EHRs and clinical data sources recording patients' experiences and outcomes. Beyond linking healthcare data, however, "there is a need to learn from data spanning other determinants of health, as the most significant and sustained individual and population health improvements occur when healthcare organizations collaborate with community or public health organizations."

NQF also highlighted a widespread need to appreciate the value of nonfinancial incentives, such as peer and public reporting, in improvement initiatives.

"Overall, there was a desire to move from a retrospective approach of quality metrics and analytics to one that uses real-time data to identify potential challenges and gauge progress," the report said.

The report was supported by the Peterson Center on Healthcare and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the initiative was spurred by a 2014 report by the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology that called for systems engineering approaches to improve healthcare quality and value.