Data management in healthcare can often be overwhelming

It’s time to unlock data in healthcare, but managing growing data sets while determining what’s useful can often be overwhelming

Data is increasing in volume and variety at an exponential rate. In fact, a study commissioned of IT decision makers (ITDMs) found that 74% of ITDMs, across all sectors in the US and UK, believe their organisation has more data than ever before, but they are struggling to effectively use it to generate meaningful insights.

Proving that, while technology is seen as a help, it can also act as a barrier, preventing organisations from managing their data properly.

For those in the healthcare sector, managing data properly is a significant problem; 81% of ITDMs in the public sector, which includes public healthcare services, are struggling to harness the data they have to generate useful insights. Unfortunately, this doesn’t come as a surprise.

Letting go of legacy

For a long time, public healthcare has been known to have some of the largest and most complex data sets around, but it’s a sector massively struggling with legacy technology and a lack of capabilities to adequately manage the data they have. Indeed, 46% of ITDMs in the sector note legacy technology barriers as one of the primary reasons data is not shared effectively across their organisation.

However, addressing this problem isn’t as simple as rip-and-replace in a sector where having access to the right data at the right time can potentially mean the difference between life and death.

There is fear that data will not transfer over from the old to the new, or that the two systems will not connect or communicate with each other. This means ITDMs in healthcare have increasingly had to manage lots of disparate systems, and teams who need access to data to care for patients have been left accessing that information from different data silos.

As a result, it’s unsurprising that 79% of ITDMs in this sphere don’t have complete trust in the data their organisation holds, because there are inconsistencies across the organisation in how data is collected, defined, and managed.

Furthermore, 65% openly acknowledge that their organisation is struggling with siloed data, and 63% state their organisation does not share data well across departments and teams. These are two issues which only serve to amplify each other and certainly don’t help deliver a high-quality level of care to patients.

Being able to connect your old legacy system to the your new systems is not only key for ensuring data does not get lost, but also so that employees still have access to what they need for their jobs, and that everything works together seamlessly.

Finding the right skills

Healthcare organisations have a big data problem thanks to the volume and complexity of the data they have. But, whilst there is an apparent desire for the healthcare industry to improve their data infrastructure, taking on big data management can be hugely overwhelming for those with data silos, not least because of the skills required to manage it.

Managing big data was, and often still is, restricted to large enterprises who have the capital and resources to invest in, build, and manage the necessary infrastructure. But the skill set to do this is incredibly specialised.

Experts who can understand the complexity of large-scale data infrastructure and data management are in incredibly short supply, resulting in overburdened IT teams stretched thin as they try to keep critical systems running, whilst still delivering technical advancements that will support the changing demands of healthcare in the 21st century.

In fact, almost a third (31%) of ITDMs in the sector believe there is a lack of resource in their organisation dedicated to data, and a further 31% stated that there is a lack of training. Unfortunately, this skills deficit in healthcare IT teams is compounded by a budgetary problem.

Budget is a big issue for healthcare when it comes to modernising technology and investing in the people to deliver it. It’s important for the healthcare sector to have the most efficient and effective system at the lowest cost possible so that more budget can be focused on delivering improved levels of care.

But highly skilled people to manage those systems come at a high cost.

Turning to ‘as a service’

Healthcare’s struggle to manage its data paints a rather bleak picture. Even with all the tools out there, it can be challenging for ITDMs to decide on the best way forward for such a large organisation.

The cloud and as-a-service products are both ways in which ITDMs should look to address some of the issues they have in managing and accessing data within their organisation. Having the best Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications is incredibly useful, as it ensures a high quality of application and can be tailored to suit the needs of specific departments.

For example, an organisation could have one app for patient records, one for financial management, and one for collaboration between specialists from different departments across the country, enabling them to discuss critical cases and ultimately deliver patient care in a more effective and efficient manner.

With budgeting a significant concern for the healthcare sector, creating or migrating big data architecture to the cloud by adopting a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) model can have a considerable impact on operational cost savings and can massively increase data processing.

Another additional benefit to this is there isn’t a need to fork-out a vast amount of budget up front to make the move, in the same way there is for on-premise infrastructure, so organisations can pay for what they need and scale up or down as necessary.

In both of these instances, ITDMs in healthcare should consider taking a multi- cloud approach, which would also help in reducing operational costs.

The problem with sticking to a single cloud provider is that its users are then beholden to a single vendor’s innovation roadmap and can get stuck having to pay increasing licensing fees without being able to easily opt out of it.

Using different cloud providers can allow healthcare ITDMs to negotiate better contracts and choose which providers are best for which applications, at any given point in time, at the lowest cost possible.

Best in class SaaS apps and a multi- cloud strategy provide tremendous value but Integration-Platform-as-a-Service (IPaaS) will become increasingly important for budget, time and skill-strapped teams to unite all the disparate data they have. Not only can IPaaS link the different cloud applications and systems an organisation has but it can also connect all the old legacy infrastructure with the new systems.

As a result, IPaaS can tear down silos between teams and departments, improving access to vital information and promote better collaboration between different specialists and departments, which will ultimately make data more trustworthy, reliable and actionable for healthcare professionals.

For example, as patent records continue to be digitised, IPaaS can ensure the information in those records is accurately reflected across different hospitals and practices as required in a safe, secure manner, ensuring practitioners have a single consistent view of a patient and their needs.

Ultimately, by investing in the right technologies, it will not only lift the burden from IT departments but will also facilitate better data management across an organisation.

The future with machine learning

With the UK government’s pledge in May 2018 to invest in artificial intelligence for the NHS, it is becoming apparent that technology is being called upon to play a much bigger role in transforming healthcare systems. AI and machine learning (ML) are only just starting to be used in organisations, but when it comes to healthcare, there is significant potential value regarding health outcomes and efficiencies, and it’s encouraging to see political support for it.

Some of the most notable uses of ML technology in healthcare have been in research. Thanks to ML’s ability to analyse incredibly large, unstructured data sets, ML algorithms are ideal for detecting anomalies and patterns in genetic data or medical imaging, far faster and more accurately than many medical professionals, which enables those individuals to spend more time with patients.

However, whilst this use of ML is making great advances, ITDMs should not forget that ML can also benefit other areas of the business which are not patient facing. Using ML to improve data management, for example, can free up time amongst the IT team to deliver better value to the broader organisation and pre-empt any issues as new systems or processes are introduced.

Better data management and lives

By better operationalising the data they have, 73% of ITDMs in healthcare believe it will help to drive operational efficiencies and reduce cost, 69% believe it will enable quicker access to information, and a further 69% believe it will improve processes. As a result, over the next five years ITDMs expect to spend over £500,000 on operationalising data.

But to really effect change and see these benefits, the healthcare sector needs to go beyond just changing their approach to data infrastructure and management. A ‘data-centric’ mentality needs to be encouraged across the entire sector.

Healthcare professionals shouldn’t be spending hours looking for crucial information when they should be out there saving lives.

In encouraging a ‘data- centric’ mindset, different departments and practices within trust groups should be coming together to improve data sharing. IT needs to lead the charge in making this happen.

After all, it’s only by investing in the right technology and encouraging better data sharing across the entire healthcare sector that we will see improved access to critical information, so that healthcare professionals can make more accurate diagnosis, uncover issues sooner, and continue to deliver the best possible level of patient care.

Neerav Shah, general manager, Snaplogic

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