Data isn’t the uncomfortable word it used to be. People are still wary about putting their information out there, but as technology shows the world what I can do, people become less concerned with stopping big brother, and more concerned with taming him.
Certainly, this is the case with healthcare where properly implemented data can improve outcomes and make things safer. In this article, we take a look at the value of incorporating big data within our healthcare system.
A Simple Breakdown
The simple feature of big data implementation in healthcare (simple being a relative word) is that it allows healthcare systems to better understand the needs of their community. For example, some communities may have higher rates of heart disease or respiratory illness that are brought on by environmental factors.
Without data, any understanding of this concept will be purely anecdotal. With the right tools, however, the healthcare system can get a much more granular understanding of what’s going on and why. Are the instances of respiratory illness concentrated amongst members of a particular age group?
Or maybe there is a geographical correlation. People living near the paper processing plant. Hospitals can take that information and use it to develop community outreach plans most likely to have a high impact.
Data During the Pandemic
When it comes to public health issues, nothing can top the pandemic. Not only did hospitals have an impossibly high influx of patients but they were also working at a reduced capacity. They didn’t have the equipment they needed to treat everyone. Not enough PPE. Not enough respirators. Not even enough beds.
Not only that but they were also short-staffed — first by viral surges. Nurses and doctors working in close proximity to Covid patients inevitably contracted the infection themselves. This put them out for up to two weeks.
Then there was the job migration — people leaving en masse, possibly in response to the crazy conditions they were being forced to work in. Hospitals still had to achieve a high standard of patient outcomes, but now they were doing it with shockingly limited resources.
During all this craziness, data was there to lend a hand.
Data could be used to predict viral surges. Spikes in one part of the country often led to spikes in another. Through good data implementation practices, hospitals could see these surges coming and button down the hatches accordingly.
The worst of the pandemic is most likely behind us, but the efficacy of this technology remains. Data allows hospitals to create bespoke strategies at the turn of a dime to address whatever situation they might be facing.
Improving Patient Outcomes
Data implementation can be used to improve patient outcomes in many different ways. On the macro level, it just provides much larger swaths of information from which to derive patterns and form insights. General advice suddenly becomes significantly more specific.
For example, a wellness checkup may previously have yielded the recommendations of more exercise and less fatty food. Using more granular data points, the physician can recommend specific foods to patients who meet the right criteria.
Then there is data implementation at the personal level. Everyone generates data constantly. That’s to say that they behave in patterns too large and obscure to be gleaned by the naked eye. With analytic technology, that’s all changed.
Data points like heart rate, blood pressure, and even glucose levels can be monitored around the clock. This can be used to issue very immediate care in certain situations. For example, a patient wearing a heart monitor will often benefit from technology that sends their readings directly to their physicians, and possibly even the company that made the device.
This means that if the device logs an irregularity, that report is immediately sent out to at least two places, immediately increasing the odds that they will receive help. In certain situations, this alone can be lifesaving.
Even in non-emergency situations, it’s very useful. That same heart monitor or blood pressure cuff that saves lives can also be used to track them with more depth and detail than any take-home wearables previously known to the world of western medicine.
These data points allow doctors to take an in-depth look at their patient’s health records, compare them to those of other people within their demographic, and use that information to make tailored courses of treatment.
Even Fitbits can play their part, serving as an affordable way for patients to monitor their vitals and make and maintain fitness goals.
The Dangers of Data
None of this is to say that there aren’t dangers associated with robust medical data. Healthcare systems are constant targets for cyber terrorists and criminals. Bad actors who hack into systems and extract information either for financial gain or to create fear and civil unrest.
And not all data breaches are born of malicious intent. Some can happen through things as common and innocuous as human error. An administrator opens a bad link, or logs onto the wrong website. A patient loses a phone with important health-related records.
A small mistake happens, and big ramifications follow. Hospitals and patients alike can avoid these scenarios by practicing due diligence. Use good password hygiene. Be mindful of the websites they use, and generally keep data security at the forefront of their minds when they are using digital technology. Many hospitals are mitigating medical identity theft cases by using touchless patient identification platforms like RightPatient. The platform uses patient photos to identify and verify patients, thus, stopping bad actors who impersonate patients and preventing medical identity theft cases.
It’s an ongoing struggle to be sure but the results are well worth it. Reduced risk, more efficient hospitals, and better patient outcomes.
Remember that data implementation as we now understand it is more or less in its infancy. Even today, only a very small percentage of data is tamed and comprehensible. As the tech improves, this will change. Patterns will become easier to detect, and outcomes will only improve.
In the meantime, it’s important to get the data right. Invest in the technology, practice security, and continue using the data to improve hospital management and safety.