Seven Insights on How Data Analytics Is Transforming Healthcare
Baylor Adjunct Professor David Muntz explains how a “tsunami” of data is reshaping the healthcare industry.
David Muntz has worked at the forefront of health information technology for more than 50 years. A trained biostatistician, he has led teams as large as 700 people at major healthcare systems like Texas Health Resources and Baylor Health Care System. In 2012, he accepted a White House appointment to serve as the first principal deputy national coordinator and CIO at ONC (Health and Human Services’ Office of the National Coordinator).
He not only has a finger on the pulse of data-driven change in the healthcare industry—he has also played a significant role in driving this change. Below, he shares seven key insights on what it looks like in homes and hospital rooms across the U.S.
1. Data is like a tsunami
I heard a spectacular analogy from Ginni Rommety, the former CEO of IBM: Data is the new natural resource, and like all resources, it must be refined prior to usage. But unlike other natural resources, overabundance is an issue. The sheer volume of data coming into the healthcare industry is like a tsunami. The thing to remember is that a tsunami is one of the most powerful, destructive forces in the physical world. We have not yet learned how to control and harness its power. In a sense, the same is true of data. We often talk about the ‘3 Vs’ of Big Data—volume, variety and velocity—but we also need to consider validity and value. It is only by checking all these boxes can we begin to harness the transformative power of data for the benefit of people everywhere.
2. Healthcare data is everywhere you look
A significant portion of healthcare data is stored in places you would expect, like electronic health records and personal devices like Fitbits and Apple watches. But there is also a tremendous amount of general data out there that reveals more healthcare information than most people realize. In the U.S., a person’s zip code is the single top predictor of health outcomes because that zip code determines things like gun violence, food access and proximity to medical facilities. Through employing data analytic techniques like artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, we can begin to draw inferences and recognize patterns from this general data.
3. Artificial intelligence and machine learning are creating countless new possibilities
Thanks to AI, we can put a monitor on someone’s hand and track their heartbeat. As simple as it sounds, that represents an enormous leap in processing capability. AI can be used to search for common traits in a wide range of disease states and identify one or more optimal treatment plans for caregivers. Machine learning can scour massive databases to identify patterns that humans might not otherwise discern. More and more, these tools allow us to predict who is most likely to develop a disease and how to maximize successful outcomes.
4. 'Small Data' matters too
Big Data makes headlines, but ‘Small Data’ is equally important in the world of healthcare information technology. While analyzing Big Data may reveal healthcare information about individuals, it is impossible to fully represent a unique individual within a dataset. I was once asked why health IT professionals cannot analyze healthcare data like banks analyze financial data. In response, I held up a penny and pointed out that everything in the financial world can be defined in terms of a penny. When you are dealing with healthcare data, there is no common unit of measurement. Every person is a combination of their genome, biome, demographics, culture, lifestyle and so many other factors that fall under the umbrella of social determinants of health. Individuals are far too complex to be perfectly represented in a computer.
5. Data is accelerating virtual and home-based care
As it becomes easier to collect and process real-time data outside of a traditional office or hospital setting, virtual and home-based care will become increasingly commonplace. Earlier this year, I developed presumptive COVID-19 over a holiday weekend. At one point, it looked like it could be pneumonia. I needed a chest x-ray to know for sure, but my doctor’s office was closed that Friday night before a holiday weekend. In lieu of an in-person appointment that would confirm a diagnosis and allow me to begin treatment, my doctor sent someone to my home with a 50-pound portable x-ray machine. From my home, they transferred the result to the physician-on-call. These capabilities are changing the way in which patients receive care.
6. A lack of interoperability is dragging down our healthcare system
One of the biggest problems our healthcare system faces is the lack of true interoperability—the ability to exchange data in a way that is actionable, that does not depend upon the patient to act as the custodian of their data, or at a minimum makes it easy to do so. If you visit a physician in a new healthcare system, you will likely have to spend time filling out new patient information. It is still common that even within a healthcare system, people are asked to fill out data they supplied at another facility. Confirming data would be so much easier, but you often have to redo the paperwork as a new patient. Then, if the new physician needs to access records from a previous physician at a different facility, you may have to fill out a medical records release request, which can delay the care process. In 2022, medical practitioners should have the capability to access information wherever it is housed. For years, our country’s regulatory system has lagged behind its technological capabilities.
7. Change is coming
When I worked at the ONC in the Obama administration, I advocated for the creation of a national registry of patients. Each patient who chose to participate would have an identifier, similar to an email address, that is linked to a full profile of healthcare data they have agreed to share with anyone who accesses the profile. Unfortunately, this concept ran into congressional opposition in my time in the administration. Only in the past few years has Congress relaxed its stance and begun to revisit the issue. Until the problem of interoperability gets solved, nothing gets solved. Patients need a national health safety identifier that they can manage.
The Bottom Line
If you want to be in healthcare, you will be impacted by healthcare information technology. When you become effective at using analytical tools to identify problems and intervene more quickly, you will achieve better outcomes from a clinical perspective. That is how you help innumerable people.
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