Siloed healthcare data is one key obstacle to cross before healthcare providers can make better-informed data-driven decisions.

The need for data-sharing in healthcare through electronic records has become more imperative than ever, as the COVID pandemic has shown.

For the healthcare industry, shared data can provide important benefits, such as lower rate of medication errors, facilitating preventive care, more accurate staffing etc.

However due to the increasing number of cybersecurity attacks on healthcare systems, more scrutiny has been placed on health data-sharing, consent, operationalization, and monetization, after at least two over-aggressive incidents exploiting interoperability.

What are the current challenges, and how should healthcare providers overcome them? DigiconAsia discussed the issues with Antonio De Castro, Senior Industry Consultant, Global Health and Life Sciences Practice, SAS Institute.

IDC predicts that by 2023, 70% of healthcare organizations’ attempts to scale value-based care models will fail unless they invest in data-driven governance, operations, and organizational infrastructure. Do you agree, and why?

Antonio De Castro (ADC): We live in a data-driven world and organizations aim to pursue digital transformation to improve efficiency and productivity as well as deliver more value. Understanding and making use of the data is, inevitably, vital in navigating digital transformation in the healthcare industry too.

Having said that, although healthcare organizations generate a substantial amount of data every single day, most are still not able to immediately operationalize and utilize this data. With all this valuable data sitting in silos, healthcare organizations are essentially doing all the work to collect the data but are not deriving the value from it.

Healthcare providers need to start viewing the data in a non-traditional way, and using the data to help them be able to lower the rate of medication errors, solve inefficiencies in healthcare staffing, provide a more holistic view of patients, and eventually improve patient and stakeholder experiences.  

It is, therefore, important for data to be at the core of an organizational infrastructure. From the boardroom right up to care staff, they need to be able to access data, in accordance with their respective needs and level of access granted, to be able to make the best possible data-driven decisions.

How will healthcare evolve in 2022 and beyond?

ADC: Here are some predictions:

  • Healthcare will be data-driven

As Big Data technologies have proliferated across industries and the COVID-19 crisis has spurred the need to better understand patients and provide them with prompt care, more hospitals will strive to ensure the data they collect is utilized to achieve the best possible outcomes for patients. Healthcare providers will become data-driven organizations and it will require a change in organization’s culture including infrastructure improvements.

A data-driven infrastructure makes it possible for healthcare providers to compare trends to past performance, allowing them to create improvements based on data. Players in the healthcare industry will be able to use these to their advantage by having improved long-term strategies to improve results as well as care travels (e.g. reduce readmissions). As the number and scope of connected systems in a healthcare system continue to rise, data privacy and governance are also critical.

  • AI and analytics adoption for better patient care

Healthcare providers are never slow to use technology to improve patient outcomes. However, many healthcare organizations seem to be fairly slow to embrace new technologies such as analytics and artificial intelligence and utilize algorithms to help and support them to make decisions.

The global COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the use of analytics to new heights and initiated the adoption of more new technologies among healthcare organizations. Moving forward, we will see this continues as the artificial intelligence in healthcare market is expected to grow from US$6.9 billion in 2021 to US$67.4 billion by 2027; it is predicted to grow at a CAGR of 46.2%from 2021 to 2027.

  • Increased investment in cloud technologies

We will see increased investment in cloud technologies to support innovations and applications to allow patients to access their health data and play a more active role in managing their chronic conditions through API-led initiatives. This in turn will increase interoperability between healthcare information technology (HCIT) and connected health technology and devices allowing patients to play a more active role in managing their health conditions.

According to IDC Futurescape, there will be a rise of ambient interfaces powered by intelligent speech recognition, sensors, and/ or gesture-based controls in both hospitals and households to support better patient interaction and act as a driver for better patient experience.

What is interoperability in the healthcare system and how will it affect the healthcare system?

ADC: Interoperability is the ability to connect all the sources of information and use them cooperatively to optimize patient outcomes. That means, sharing data from electronic health records (EHRs) and other information systems is the key towards interoperability.

A hospital can have over a hundred different systems that must connect with one another. The use of sophisticated medical equipment, such as the ‘Internet of Medical Things,’ and novel electronic health record systems, for example, adds to the complexity of administering all systems in the healthcare industry.

Interoperability in healthcare systems creates a unified environment for health data which allows for information systems, devices and applications (systems) to access, exchange, integrate and cooperatively use data in a coordinated manner, within and across organizational, regional and national boundaries, to provide timely and seamless portability of information and optimize the health of individuals and populations, globally.

Data-sharing and information exchange will help healthcare providers be able to reduce medical errors, better understand patients, and improve patient care quality.

In the healthcare sector, there is a growing interest in developing data-driven solutions to aid or even automate decision-making. We will only see a greater demand for collaboration across diverse stakeholders in healthcare, including care providers, operational employees, senior leadership, and other up-and-coming players. For a successful healthcare system, data consistency and accessibility are critical.

As the healthcare industry moves towards more holistic approaches (whole-person care) and new technologies are developed, adoption of interoperability standards such as FIHR HL7 will become more important in order for healthcare organizations to effectively utilize their many data sources. We believe that interoperability will be the driving force behind the future of healthcare systems.

What are some of the challenges in health data-sharing?

ADC: Security and legacy systems are two key challenges.

  • Security

When it comes to sharing health data, one of the most significant obstacles is patient data privacy concerns and security. Protecting patients’ data and privacy is a major concern for healthcare professionals. Healthcare providers have long been known as organizations that must keep patient medical records safely, make sure that the data is secure, and the privacy of patients is well protected. As cyber-attacks on healthcare systems are on the rise, healthcare providers will have to be more vigilant and proactive to protect themselves.

  • Legacy systems

Adopting a data-driven approach can be hampered by sticking to older legacy systems. To achieve interoperability requirements, they must begin modernising their systems. Shifting organizational culture can also be challenging, but healthcare providers need to support the change in culture and empower their stakeholders to understand and be able to use new systems and technologies.

How should we address the very real cyberthreats when digitizing healthcare?

ADC: Some key considerations include:

  • Data privacy and security

Establishing guidelines and rules on data access according to different roles within a healthcare organization is important to ensure data privacy and security are protected.

  • Transparency of patient data

A patient must feel comfortable sharing their health data with the doctor, but if this data must be shared with others, healthcare organizations must be open about the potential uses of this information.

  • Balancing personal information and analysis

Data should always be analysed at the aggregate level, never at the individual level, in population health analysis. These data should be anonymized before being analysed, and no personal information should be included.