by Brendon Nafziger
, DOTmed News Associate Editor | May 30, 2013
From the May 2013 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
Health care organizations like other businesses are getting ready for the deluge. Nearly three years ago, technology research firm Gartner listed “dealing with data” as the second biggest IT trend for businesses, pointing out that data would grow 800 percent over five years. What’s more, 80 percent of that data would be unstructured.
What does that mean? The difference between structured and unstructured data is that structured data usually exists in a fixed field or database. In health care, this might include patient details typed into an electronic health record. Unstructured data is, in essence, everything else. For hospitals, it usually refers to text documents or “images,” in this case scanned patient records or the many faxes an institution might receive — for referrals, orders or prescriptions. But it can also include everything from electrocardiograms and digitized pathology slides to imported datasets from CT scanners, MRIs, X-ray and other equipment. “Unstructured data is much more difficult,” says Lydia Washington, senior director of HIM practice excellence with AHIMA.
That’s a problem, because the amount of unstructured data hospitals have to contend with is mind-boggling. Geisinger, an integrated health system in Pennsylvania that runs several hospitals, had more than 2 billion distinct unstructured documents sloshing around its repository as of 2010, according to Joe Stewart, general manager of the health care business unit at OpenText, the company that provides back-end IT infrastructure for Geisinger. That’s the equivalent of hundreds of terabytes of data (one terabyte is 1 trillion bytes, or 1,000 gigabytes). By now, that number’s inching closer to 3 billion, he says.
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How to deal with billions of documents? One answer could be enterprise information management, or EIM, an umbrella term for technologies that help businesses handle both structured and unstructured data, and can help them archive old data, share it with people across departments and eliminate redundancies. So far, medicine is mostly not on board. Eighty-five percent of health care organizations have weak or nonexistent EIM, according to Washington, citing figures from another Gartner study.
“We find health care, like with many information-related things, is a little more behind the curve than some other industries,” says Washington, who gave a talk on EIM at the HIMSS 2013 show in March. “We have not treated information as an asset in the past.”