Keys to achieving a successful data integration strategy

A complete data integration solution that delivers trusted patient data from numerous data sources requires meticulous upfront planning — as well as both electronic and manual entry components.
10:22 AM
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Healthcare’s future will be rife with data.

As noted in a recent IDC study, the amount of data used by the healthcare industry, given both current and future advances in imaging and analytics platforms, is primed to grow in leaps and bounds by the year 2025. Yet, despite that rapid growth, the field still struggles with data readiness.1 One reason, said Robert Havasy, MS, managing director of the Personal Connected Health Alliance at HIMSS, is that the clinical and business sides of the house are often at odds with just how data can and should be integrated.

“Data scientists who are running many of the business analytics platforms want every field perfectly structured so everything can be perfectly archived, computed, and moved,” he said. “Clinicians want all of their notes in open fields. There’s a tension there that is difficult to manage.”

New and innovative healthcare systems, as well as medical devices and personal patient data sources, are coming online. And, with them, the potential exists for healthcare organizations to use the complex, rich data from those systems to transform patient care and lower healthcare costs. But only if they can overcome such tensions to successfully integrate the data from those different sources into meaningful, valuable, and useful information. And that, said Havasy, requires having a long-term, comprehensive data integration strategy that involves both electronic and manual components.

Teri Burley, managing senior program director at Leidos Health, agreed. “Both electronic and manual components must be aligned together to ensure seamless patient data transfer,” she said.

Data integration and EHR migrations

Today, healthcare organizations of all shapes and sizes have been upgrading their EHR systems of the past few years to meet evolving clinical and business needs, said Havasy.

“Information technology systems used to be static. It used to be a capital investment for your own data center and your own servers and a big software investment,” he said. “But what we face in today’s environment is that systems are changing really quickly — and they continue to do so. You need a flexible, ongoing strategy not only for migration, but also for how you will integrate data so you can actually use it when you need to.”

While electronic data migrations and interfaces are the most efficient way to transmit data between EHR platforms, said Burley, they often leave significant data gaps in the new systems.

“Healthcare organizations have strong beliefs as to the data needed to provide optimum patient care on the first day a new EHR system is implemented,” she said. “Manual abstraction provides you an opportunity to ‘clean up’ charts and other datasets so that legacy data elements that have been updated with new formats can be standardized — and that patient care, population health, research, accountable care organizations, and other programs can benefit from that integrated information.”

Thinking beyond migrations

Yet, Havasy said, given the continuing evolution of healthcare’s data landscape, it’s vital that healthcare organizations think beyond EHR migrations when considering the benefits of manual data abstraction and their data integration needs. He said that partnering with a third-party abstraction partner can help hospitals and other provider organizations more effectively plan, manage, and implement a comprehensive, long-term data integration strategy.

“Having a third-party manual abstraction partner can help manage some of those tensions between IT and clinical users,” he said. “It has the experience to work with both sides and see what they need to be successful moving forward. It has the right background to say, ‘Look, we’ve done this a lot. Given your needs and requirements, these are the best practices to get the information you need.’”

Burley added that the right partner can bring the right tools and expertise from the beginning, helping to design the right migration and abstraction process for optimal data integration.

“A third-party, ideally, will have expertise in your EHR and will be able to ensure that data is migrated in a uniform manner — with the correct coding, populating the appropriate tables, and ensuring the integrity of all data integration between databases,” she said.

And that, Havasy argued, is key. As the field progresses, the need for an ongoing data integration strategy is necessary to promote interoperability across all systems, today and tomorrow.

“The nature of technology is such that it will change again and again — usually before you even expect it,” he said. “So working with experts to come up with the kind of plan that will allow you to be flexible is the only way to make sure your doctors have what they need at their fingertips to provide the highest quality care, and the business people can get what they need, too.”


  1. IDC and Seagate Technology. The Digitization of the World – From Edge to Core. November 27, 2018.


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Above photo: Dr Gamaliel Tan (in grey), Group CMIO, NUHS during NTFGH's HIMSS EMRAM 7 revalidation (virtual) in November 2020. Credit: NTFGH

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