The Importance of Data Operating Systems in Healthcare

Data drives innovation and if you doubt me, ask any data specialist out there. The rise of big data is driving new inventions and innovations in industries and the healthcare industry is one of those industries riding the wave. As Health Catalyst a proprietary health software company put it so eloquently below:

“Ingesting healthcare data into a data lake or data warehouse is now essentially a commodity, thanks to open source technology and a late-binding, schema-on-read approach to data models. It’s fast and cheap to ingest data, but understanding the data content, data models, and vastly complicated nuances of healthcare data will not be commoditized in our lifetime. The analytic logic or data bindings that apply to that data, how to organize it into meaningful chunks, and the technology and skills to deliver to the right person at the right time, in the right modality, all contribute to this complexity.” – Health Catalyst

The argument for the importance of promoting Data Operating Systems in Healthcare is that a new company isn’t integrated until the data is integrated. Executives jump into mergers and acquisitions and, within a few months, realize they can’t pull together basic financial reports about the new company, much less complicated clinical quality measures that put their reimbursement at risk. They barely support rudimentary clinical integrations, much less balancing a new company’s general ledger. Ripping and replacing EHRs with a single common vendor is not an affordable strategy for interoperability. Besides, hybrid vigor is a good thing in this context. It’s not a good idea, long-term, to put all the organization’s digital and data eggs in one vendor’s platform.

There are three (and possibly more) kinds of innovation can make healthcare better and can be driven by data. One changes the ways consumers buy and use health care. Another uses technology to develop new products and treatments or otherwise improve care. The third generates new business models, particularly those that involve the horizontal or vertical integration of separate health care organizations or activities.

Consumer-focused: Innovations in the delivery of healthcare can result in more-convenient, more-effective, and less-expensive treatments for today’s time-stressed and increasingly empowered healthcare consumers. For example, a health plan can involve consumers in the service delivery process by offering low-cost, high-deductible insurance, which can give members greater control over their personal health care spending. Or a health plan (or service provider) can focus on becoming more user-friendly. Patients, after all, are like other consumers: They want not only a good product—quality care at a good price—but also ease of use. People in the United States have to wait an average of three weeks for an appointment and, when they show up, 30 minutes to see a doctor, according to a 2003 study by the American Medical Association. More seriously, they often must travel from one facility to another for treatment, especially in the case of chronic diseases that involve several medical disciplines.

Technology Focused: New drugs, diagnostic methods, drug delivery systems, and medical devices offer the hope of better treatment and of care that is less costly, disruptive, and painful. For example, implanted sensors can help patients monitor their diseases more effectively. And IT innovations that connect the many islands of information in the healthcare system can both vastly improve quality and lower costs by, for example, keeping a patient’s various providers informed and thereby reducing errors of omission or commission.

Business-focused: Health care is still an astonishingly fragmented industry. More than half of U.S. physicians work in practices of three or fewer doctors; a quarter of the nation’s 5,000 community hospitals and nearly half of its 17,000 nursing homes are independent, and the medical device and biotechnology sectors are made up of thousands of small firms. Innovative business models, particularly those that integrate healthcare activities, can increase efficiency, improve care, and save consumers time. You can roll a number of independent players up into a single organization—horizontal integration—to generate economies of scale. Or you can bring the treatment of a chronic disease under one roof—vertical integration—and make the treatment more effective and convenient. In the latter case, patients get one-stop shopping and are freed from the burden of coordinating their care with myriad providers (for example, the ophthalmologists, podiatrists, cardiologists, neurologists, and nephrologists who care for diabetics). Such “focused factories,” to adopt C. Wickham Skinner’s term, cut costs by improving patients’ health. Furthermore, they reduce the likelihood that an individual’s care will fall between the cracks of different medical disciplines.