From the September 2019 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine
By James D’Arezzo
Managing healthcare these days is as much about managing data as it is about managing patients themselves.
The tsunami of data washing over the healthcare industry is a result of technological advancements and regulatory requirements coming together in a perfect storm. But when it comes to saving lives, the healthcare industry cannot allow IT deficiencies to become the problem rather than the solution.
Healthcare generates about a zettabyte (a trillion gigabytes) of data each year, from sources including electronic health records, diagnostics, genetics, wearable devices and much more. While this data can help improve our health, reduce healthcare costs and predict diseases and epidemics, the technology used to process and analyze it is a major factor in its value.
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According to a recent report from International Data Corporation, the volume of data processed in the overall healthcare sector is projected to increase at a compound annual growth rate of 36 percent through 2025, significantly faster than in other data-intensive industries such as manufacturing (30 percent projected CAGR), financial services (26 percent) and media and entertainment (25 percent).
Healthcare faces many challenges, but one that cannot be ignored is information technology. Without adequate technology to handle this growing mountain of often complex data, medical professionals and scientists can’t do their jobs.
Electronic health records
Over the last 30 years, healthcare organizations have moved toward digitizing patient records, with 96 percent of U.S. hospitals and 78 percent of physician’s offices now using EHRs, according to the National Academy of Medicine. A recent report from market research firm Kalorama Information states that the EHR market topped $31.5 billion in 2018, up 6 percent from 2017.
Ten years ago, Congress passed the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act and invested $40 billion in health IT implementation.
The adoption of EHRs is supposed to be a solution, but instead it is straining an overburdened healthcare IT infrastructure. This is largely because of the lack of interoperability among the more than 700 EHR providers. Healthcare organizations, primarily hospitals and physicians’ offices, end up with duplicate EHR data that requires extensive (not to mention non-productive) search and retrieval, which degrades IT system performance.
More data, more problems
IT departments are struggling to keep up with demand. Like the proverbial Dutch boy with his finger in the dyke, it is difficult for IT staff to manage the sheer amount of data, much less the performance demands of users.
The applications are getting more robust, systems are generally more reliable, but speed (performance) is a constant challenge that can get worse by the day.