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“Your condition is improving substantially, but the chances of a relapse are still very real. This depends on a combination of heridity, lifestyle, and personal environment. I’ll go ahead and recommend a treatment path tailored for you, depending entirely on my hunch as an experenced physician. Sound good?”

Experience and gut instinct are important factors in decision making, but in the healthcare sector, the need for data-driven decisions is just as critical, if not more so, than in the greater business community. Considering the ultimate end goal for this often cloudy and convoluted industry – patient health – it is imperative for healthcare organizations to consistently make better, data-driven decisions to ensure optimal patient outcomes. 

This concept is hardly a novel idea for care providers, as “evidence-based” medicine has long been a priority for many organizations. However, the data inputs to these evidence-based decisions are harder to come by than most would imagine, and healthcare providers are responding with their IT wallets. According to Aberdeen’s research, the main drivers for these technology investments are the need to improve or mitigate several aspects of their data environment, including:

  • Accessibility. The research demonstates that healthcare providers are managing an average of nine different data sources. These systems could be used to support better decisions, but all too often the data is so spread out and disparate that it can’t be accessed in a timely way. Additionally, data accessibility isn’t just about what can be accessed, it’s about where it can be accessed. More than ever before, clinical decision makers are looking for better access to data at the point-of-care, and they need better technology to do so.
  • Volume and complexity. For most organizations, big data is a multifaceted issue. As more and more systems go online and more paper-based documents enter the electroic realm, there is more digital data to deal with. However, storing and managing that growing data is far from the biggest challenge these companies face. In a healthcare environment, government regulations and incentives force providers to invest in electronic medical records systems (often times multiple systems). Digital imaging from radiology, EKG machines and other systems are creating larger file sizes that not only take up space, but are difficult to search and maintain. More medical research, physicians notes, and other text-based information is appearing in unstructured digital formats. More recently, there is increaing streaming data from medical devices and systems in the healthcare Internet of Things (IoT). At the end of the day, data volume is a challenge, but the disparity and complexity of the data is even more so.
  • Security. With the number of high-profile data breeches floodinig the news these days, organizations have become extra sensitive about protecting the integrity and the accessibility of their data. It’s one thing for an online retailer to protect the demographic information or purchase history of a customer, but in the healthcare world, the security of patient data takes on a heightened level of importance. Healthcare organizations are spending healthily (and sometimes excessively) on technologies for data protection as well as identity and access management.

Early findings from Aberdeen’s recent HealthTech 2017 survey demonstrate the most important factors for healthcare providers as they consider investing in technology (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Top Pressures Driving Technology Investment

Mike chart

Healthcare provider organizations are fundamentally different than the rest of the business world given the presence of a third key stakeholder for technology: the clinical decision makers. Like most organizations, healthcare providers have an IT staff that develops, deploys, supports and maintains technology. They also have line-of-business leaders that make business decisions for the betterment of the organization (e.g. the operational / administrative staff). However, the clinical staff of physicians and nurses carry with them an entirely separate set of needs and requirements when it comes to decision making. The ultimate focus is (or should be) on improving patient outcomes and overall health, but the clinical staff also have a tremendous impact on operational efficiency. Hospitals and other healthcare providers today need greater access to data for these physicians and nurses at the point-of-care, so that multiple types of data from a variety of different sources can be incorporated in a secure and responsible way.

Conclusion

Technology spending is done very cautiously these days. Companies are petrified of “shelfware,” or underutilized technology that sits on the shelf without being properly leveraged. Healthcare providers are no different from the rest of the business community in their desire to show a tangible ROI from deploying technology, but that fear also restricts their ability to harness the inherent value hidden inside their data. The research shows that data management technologies – such as master data management (MDM), data warehouse tools, as well as emerging solutions like Hadoop and its associated ecosystem – are the top area of “inadequate” technology spend.

At the same time, a wealth of prior Aberdeen research demonstrates how the judicious and effective use of data management and analytics technology improve the efficiency of the decision-making process as well as operational performance. Healthcare providers that embrace the right technologies as a critical piece of their decision-making process will be rewarded with deeper, more comprehensive insights and immediate opportunities to reduce cost and achieve better outcomes for their overall business, and, most importantly, for their patients.

For more information, explore the full report: The Ills of Healthcare Data and the Healing Power of Analytics.

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