Next-gen data management: From FHIR APIs to AI to genomics, tech is changing fast

By Bill Siwicki
09:36 AM
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Hospitals should also expect Blockchain, patient experience and new iteration of vendor neutral archive capabilities to be available in the future.
next-gen data management in healthcare

Healthcare data management technology is crucial to the interplay of information between IT systems, organizations and caregivers. The technology ensures that the right information is in the hands of the right person at the right time.

While data management tech is one of the basics of healthcare information and technology, it is by no means in an uninteresting position. In fact, there are many factors causing changes to the technology that healthcare CIOs will have to stay on top of in the years ahead.

APIs will decentralize data

The first next-generation feature of healthcare data management technology will be the decentralization of data through the incorporation of APIs into any technology at play within the health system, said Mark Vance, senior vice president of technology at Signet Accel, a data management technology vendor.

"[The decentralization of data] means fewer data warehouses and more web service calls between applications. This will allow for greater UX and overall data access for third-party applications."

Mark Vance, Signet Accel

“This means fewer data warehouses and more web service calls between applications,” Vance explained. “We’re seeing this with FHIR apps on top of EHR and pharmacy systems. This will allow for greater UX and overall data access for third-party applications and uses of the data. This improves the use of the data – as well as users’ access to it – and it eliminates the overhead of maintaining an entire server farm dedicated to storing copies of health system data.”

Healthcare professionals will go where systems are easier to use and health systems will save money when fewer people and less infrastructure are required, he added.

Another feature that will be important to the next generation of data management technology is private cloud functionality, which already is beginning to take off, Vance said.

“This will increase as there continue to be new services and applications that are easier and cheaper to put in the cloud,” he predicted. “And this is going to require some ‘cross communication’ between on premise and in the cloud. This leads back to the decentralization of data, and the need for the application ecosystem to have standards to speak through.”

Services on premise are going to require information from the cloud, and vice versa, so standard interfaces will be the backbone of this federated system, Vance said. This level of communication will facilitate third-party systems and uses of data, he said.

Blockchain is in the spotlight

A big technology on the immediate horizon for healthcare is Blockchain. Many executives in healthcare are talking up the power of this distributed ledger technology, but not as many are yet putting it to use. Some experts believe Blockchain has a big role to play in the next generation of data management.

The ability to use Blockchain to capture, exchange and track data through a secure, transparent, open-source technology platform is very compelling, said Ben Flock, TEKsystems’ chief healthcare strategist.

“Business use-cases like prior authorization, provider credentialing, drug fulfillment and claims management already are fueling many pilot engagements,” he said. “Currently, industry impact has been limited due to technology/data complexities, regulatory constraints, security risks and a lack of meaningful reference implementations. We believe healthcare industry aspirations for Blockchain will drive a growing interest and demand in its use.”

CIOs should prepare for this increasing demand by actively engaging in pilot activities to better understand Blockchain’s complexities, requirements, and potential impact and value to the organization, Flock added.

"One of the increasing requirements we have been seeing is the need to access a more complete patient record with a rich history of data that can be referenced at the point of care in order to more effectively consult, diagnose and treat patients."

John McCann, BridgeHead Software

John McCann, global director of marketing at BridgeHead Software, a healthcare data management technology vendor, said a new technology called application independent clinical archive (AICA) will play a prominent data management role in the years ahead.

“One of the increasing requirements we have been seeing in the last few years within healthcare is the need to access a more complete patient record with a rich history of data that can be referenced, from which clinicians can access, at the point of care, in order to more effectively consult, diagnose and treat patients,” McCann said. “This has been addressed by a new technology, what IDC describes as the application independent clinical archive. In essence, AICAs are the next generation in vendor neutral archives.”

AICAs: All data not in an EHR

The difference is that AICAs extend way beyond the singular focus of managing radiology images, as was the case with traditional VNAs. An AICA transcends enterprise imaging within hospitals to act as a central repository for all data not typically held within an EHR. Typically, this is data held in siloed applications that do not integrate or interoperate with the EHR.

“Medical images is certainly one common area,” McCann said. “But, increasingly, patient data trapped in old legacy applications, such as a prior EHR system, or data from systems that have been inherited through the consolidation and acquisition of other hospital systems or, as is prevalent today, the acquisition of primary physician practices.”

Another hotspot for the next generation of healthcare data management technology is AI and its related technologies. AI can help manage data in many ways unlike any human can.

“Artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, population health management and more general healthcare analytics are distinct from one another, but clearly overlap, so I have grouped them together for the purpose of this discussion,” McCann said. “At this year’s HIMSS event in Las Vegas, everywhere you walked there were vendors offering some or all of these solutions. It’s clearly an area getting a lot of attention and focus and rightly so.”

But the industry must be cautious. There is a lot of hype around these systems and very high expectations as to what they will deliver, when actually the market is in its relative infancy.

"Key to [precision medicine] is the collection and analysis of genomics and other molecular patient data. This data will require an order of magnitude increase in storage and computing capabilities."

Allan Swanepoel, Dimension Data

“There also seems to be friction between some clinicians and these types of technology,” McCann added. “I think vendors need to work very closely with external clinicians to show how these solutions will augment care delivery rather than replace it, as some may fear. However, there is no denying there are significant innovations and advances in this market that, if positioned correctly, could change the face of healthcare.”

Accounting for precision medicine data

A big area that will impact how data is managed in healthcare is genomics. Precision medicine will have to be accounted for in information systems in the years ahead, if not now.

“Precision medicine is the leading edge for clinical treatment and is being increasingly adopted,” said Allan Swanepoel, director of data center solutions at Dimension Data, a healthcare data management technology vendor. “Key to this is the collection and analysis of genomics and other molecular patient data. This data will require an order of magnitude increase in storage and computing capabilities.”

And since today’s EHRs do not have that functionality the field of data management technologies is fertile for innovation.

Next-gen technology

What tech is shaping the future of healthcare IT?

Twitter: @SiwickiHealthIT
Email the writer: bill.siwicki@himssmedia.com