3 Data Management Lessons Healthcare Should Learn from Other Industries

The healthcare industry hasn’t quite figured out yet an effective way to manage the vast profusion of data being shared between providers, payers, digital health startups and government agencies. Anyone working in the sector could probably point to lingering challenges like data overload, siloed information and disparate data accuracy standards.

Historically, healthcare’s progress when it comes to technology and data management has lagged behind other industries. As the sector continues to struggle with its data management and usage, healthcare stakeholders should learn from the data improvement strategies that other industries have implemented in the past decade, according to a report recently published by healthcare data enablement company Intelligent Medical Objects. For example, healthcare could glean lessons from data management strategies implemented by the military, aerospace industry and aviation sector.

Prioritize data standardization

Data for data’s sake isn’t worth much — the value comes from usability. In order for data to be useful, end users must be able to quickly and clearly understand the message being communicated. This is difficult without a shared clinical terminology. Without a common clinical data language, health data often becomes less and less useful the farther it travels from its original source, the report pointed out.

To learn how to address this issue, healthcare stakeholders can turn to the U.S. Army’s medical modernization plan. The Army implemented the strategy last year because it needed a more efficient way of responding to battlefield threats and treating service members on the front lines.

Under the plan, the Army uses a universal digital medical record for its front-line soldiers. The service branch developed common data standards, clinical terminologies and message formats. These standard practices are followed throughout the organization, from first responders at the point of the incident to administrative workers who may need to facilitate a medical evacuation from the other side of the world.

The plan guarantees that the Army’s health data is understandable and actionable for each member of the organization, the report said. But in the U.S. healthcare delivery system, the lack of common standards and terminology means that data often fails to be meaningful and/or machine-readable as it travels between different providers, health plans and patients, according to the report.

Abandon the “need-to-know” mindset

When healthcare leaders gripe about the current state of data management in their industry, the word “siloed” comes up a lot. The fact that data gets stuck with individual teams and systems is a clear source of frustration.

NASA was also struggling with data interoperability until it created a new data strategy in 2021. Under the plan, NASA consolidated its data and made it accessible for more employees. The organization’s chief data officer is now responsible for disseminating data across the organization and encouraging more data sharing. 

This has created more trust in NASA’s information, which means more employees are using the data to improve their operations, the report said. Beforehand, data was often only reviewed by executives and managers.

Healthcare would also benefit from taking an organization-wide approach to data sharing that considered the various downstream uses of patient information, the report suggested. Currently, most of the data documented in EHRs is only used for reporting — whether that reporting be for revenue, fee-for-service billing or defensive medicine, the report said. 

If data was easily accessible for all members of a health system, workers might comb through that information more often and glean insights that could improve patient care, according to the report. For example, doctors might feel more empowered to analyze data across their hospital to see which factors are contributing to their patients’ medication adherence rates. Nurses might analyze data about how unit staffing levels affect patient outcomes and take those findings to their employer to create a plan for better staffing.

Designate data governance roles

Similar to the healthcare sector, the aviation industry gathers its data from a multitude of sources and systems. Unlike the healthcare sector, airlines have created committees to manage that data as a strategic asset, the report pointed out.

With Order 1375.1F, the Federal Aviation Administration created its Chief Data Office and Enterprise Information Management Steering Committee. These bodies are cross-organizational groups that provide authority on how airlines can use data for strategic decision-making. Different airlines all cooperate with these bodies and their data standards to improve customer service and reduce operating costs, according to the report.

“Much like the FAA created clear roles and responsibilities for those in charge of data management, outlining a plan that assigns responsibility for problem list governance and maintenance can help make patient information more accurate and useful at the point of care and beyond,” the report said.

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