CMS has signaled a renewed focus on interoperability, a welcome development for healthcare professionals anxious to more easily exchange insightful data. But there’s still the matter of how well the people involved in various collaborative “Big Data in Healthcare” initiatives operate together.
At some point for most of us in our careers – usually early on – we’ve encountered a project that was initially heralded with a great deal of fanfare, only to ultimately fizzle out after failing to gain enough buy-in. For all the excitement surrounding Big Data projects, many are at similar risk of a premature end if stakeholder concerns aren’t addressed at the outset:
- Who will host the data?
- How will data privacy concerns be handled?
- How have restrictions on data use been addressed?
- Do existing consents allow for data sharing?
- Will the data need to be de-identified? If so, using which methodology?
- Who will be responsible for acquiring, maintaining and distributing it?
- How will the data be protected as it’s routed to its new home?
- How well will it be protected in its new home? Who will have access to it?
For this to work, a neutral ground is usually needed, offered by a trusted third party.
The cloud: breaking down barriers to data exchange
In healthcare, massive amounts of data are not stored in pre-defined, structured tables. Instead, they are often composed of text, notes, numbers, images, formulas, dates, and other facts that are inherently unstructured. In fact, certain kinds of data sources are being created so quickly that there is no time to store it before the need to analyze it.
Savvy healthcare executives see Big Data as an opportunity to break down the paradigm of siloed data. They know that isolated data can be inefficient. Yet even while supporting the vision of Big Data, many healthcare leaders are traditionally reluctant to share data outside their own firewalls. Due to competitive considerations and confidentiality risks, there must be a level of trust in the quality and security of the receiving organization’s health data management systems for the data owner to be willing to share it. No one wants to risk a HIPAA privacy or security violation at the hands of another entity.
'Dirty' data can yield hidden treasures
To make an effective Big Data play, data sharing arrangements must be made, data flows defined, data analytics engines and the underlying infrastructure created, and the proper data governance must be agreed upon by all relevant stakeholders. It is at this stage that a trusted third party data warehouse environment is critical for success.
Conventional wisdom leads many to believe that data must be scrubbed, normalized and aggregated into a standard format in order to gain key insights. In fact, for Big Data in Healthcare, the time-tested principle of “garbage in, garbage out” actually may not apply.
Using the right data analytics tools can reveal unexpected insights from unstructured or “dirty” data as some call it.
In addition to enabling insights from disparate data sources, storing and protecting data, data management services are now available that alleviate the need for healthcare organizations to hire additional experts in meaningful use or cloud technology, including:
- Pulling data from different sources into a single cloud-based repository for collaborative use
- De-identifying the data and stripping it of identifiable information
- Data visualization with dashboards and reports
- Audit trails of who accessed what, when and from where
- Dynamically scaling the infrastructure as the data volume increases
Cloud for collaborative care
Entities that are members of an accountable care organization or other coordinated care programs also benefit from the neutrality of the cloud for a variety of functions, from the day-to-day, such as claims and billing, to more analytic reporting and collaboration. The cloud provider can host the data along with any other number of data management services that the healthcare organization can’t, or just doesn’t want to take on.
Can you blame them? Healthcare organizations need all of their IT staff on deck for analytics and other data projects. And as we move to a more coordinated and shared model for healthcare, all stakeholders need a neutral and trusted environment that fosters collaboration. And based on the potential for infinite computing power and storage on the cloud, the sky’s the limit for interoperability.