Taming the Healthcare Data Beast: Conquering Complexity for Better Care

Data is an invaluable asset in the healthcare industry, capable of empowering practitioners to deliver better care, optimizing operations for medical organizations, and encouraging patients to actively participate in their own healthcare journeys. However, despite constituting one-third of the world’s data, an astonishing 97% of healthcare data remains untapped.

The primary reason for this lies in the complexities and compliance requirements involved in managing and sharing healthcare data. Without an appropriate approach, this valuable data is left unused, and worst of all, vulnerable to exposure.

Managing sensitive healthcare data is a tricky beast to tame. The unique data challenges fall into three main categories: effectively managing the vast amount and diverse types of data, ensuring data security and compliance, and extracting meaningful insights from the data.

Challenge #1: Managing vast amounts & sources of data

Healthcare generates an abundance of data, ranging from patient records and medical images to lab results, prescriptions, and wearable device data. This diverse data comes in various formats and from multiple sources, making it daunting to capture, organize, and analyze effectively. Additionally, the sheer volume of data necessitates substantial storage capacity.

This breadth of data also makes it difficult to ensure accuracy, which has serious consequences in healthcare. Data quality issues such as duplicate entries, outdated or erroneous information, and inconsistent formats may lead to medical errors, misdiagnoses, and suboptimal treatment decisions.

To address these challenges, healthcare organizations should implement standardized formats, protocols, and data sharing frameworks, ensuring seamless data interoperability between different electronic health record (EHR) systems, medical devices, and healthcare facilities. Moreover, regular validation, data ownership and governance practices, and standardized data entry protocols will ensure accuracy and completeness.

Challenge #2: Keeping data private, secure, and compliant

Healthcare data is highly vulnerable to loss, theft, or compromise, with data breach costs escalating by 53% since 2020 and averaging over $10 million annually, the most expensive across any industry.

During the last six months of 2022, 28.5 million patient records were impacted by breaches and unauthorized access contributed to 16% of reported incidents. In one of the biggest breaches last year, CommonSpirit Health experienced a significant ransomware attack traced back to an unauthorized party who gained access to its network without permission, affecting over 600,000 patient records and costing over $160 million. In response, CommonSpirit took their entire EMR system offline to investigate and implement enhanced security measures, leading to canceled appointments with patients.

Internal threats from healthcare employees, such as privilege misuse and snooping, also remain significant contributors to data breaches, according to the 2023 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report. The consequences of these breaches include reputational damage, financial losses, and critical system downtime, impacting patient care. Furthermore, strict privacy regulations, like HIPAA, demand robust security measures and compliance procedures, with ethical considerations for responsible data stewardship. To safeguard patient confidentiality and prevent unauthorized access, vigilant access controls, fast detection, and automated monitoring of data access patterns are essential.

Challenge #3: Accessing, sharing, and analyzing data

Analyzing data in real-time is critical for delivering timely patient care, especially in emergency rooms or critical care units. For others, such as those battling long-term or chronic illnesses, tracking trends over time and analyzing health outcomes is needed.

But healthcare data is often complex, unstructured, and heterogeneous, making it difficult to derive meaningful insights from it. Data stored across multiple systems and healthcare providers makes it challenging to exchange information seamlessly and efficiently.

To overcome this challenge, healthcare organizations should leverage advanced analytics capabilities, such as data visualization techniques and skilled data analysts, to extract actionable insights from the data.

Three steps to enabling data-driven healthcare

Taming the healthcare data beast requires a multidimensional approach that involves modern technology, adherence to regulatory frameworks, well-defined policies, and collaboration among stakeholders. By streamlining data management processes and adhering to best practices, healthcare organizations will unlock the full potential of their data. Here are three steps to kick-start the process:

  • Step 1: Assess data postureAssessing the data posture is the foundational step in unlocking the full potential of healthcare data. Healthcare organizations must gain a comprehensive understanding of their data landscape, including what data they possess, where it is stored, and who has access to it. This involves implementing continuous data discovery and classification processes and using modern technology to quickly build an accurate data inventory without disrupting the infrastructure. By identifying and classifying sensitive data based on risk and value to the organization, healthcare entities will prioritize data security efforts effectively. Regular audits and real-time visibility into data access ensure proactive monitoring and adherence to data privacy standards.
  • Step 2: Define data access controlsSecuring sensitive patient data is paramount to maintaining trust and complying with privacy regulations. Defining robust data access controls is crucial in controlling who accesses PHI and for how long. Time-bound access and dynamic masking techniques limit data exposure to authorized personnel for specific timeframes, minimizing the risk of data breaches. Row-level and column-level controls provide granular access permissions, ensuring that only relevant data is accessible to users based on their roles and responsibilities. Implementing role-based access controls (RBAC) and attribute-based access controls (ABAC) adds an additional layer of security, allowing for fine-grained control over data access based on user attributes and context.
  • Step 3: Facilitate authorized accessBalancing data privacy and accessibility is crucial to deriving insights from healthcare data effectively. Healthcare organizations streamline authorized access to data by creating a comprehensive, centralized repository of all available data and enabling use through automated self-service access approval workflows. Integrating with productivity tools like Slack, Jira, ServiceNow, Collibra or Salesforce further facilitates collaboration and data-driven decision-making across the organization. By providing authorized users with easy and efficient access to data, it’s possible for healthcare organizations to leverage the full potential of data assets while maintaining robust security protocols.

By following these foundational data best practices, healthcare organizations will harness the power of their data to provide superior patient care while safeguarding patient privacy and compliance. Taking the steps to maximize healthcare data’s potential is a journey – but it is one that promises to revolutionize the future of healthcare.