Physicians have always been in the information business. We have kept records of patient data regarding the vital signs, allergies, illnesses, injuries, medications, and treatments for the patients we serve. We seek knowledge from other physicians, whether that knowledge comes from the conclusions of experts from research published in a medical journal or the specialist down the hall. However, a physician will always benefit from additional good information such as the analysis of pooled data from our peers treating similar patients or from the patients themselves.
Over the next few years, vast new pools of data regarding the physiologic status, behaviors, environment, and genomes of patients will create amazing new possibilities for both patients and care providers. Data will change our understanding of health and disease and provide a rich new resource to improve clinical care and maximize patient health and well-being.
Patient Data Used by the Patient
Instead of a periodic handful of test results and a smattering of annual measurements in a paper chart, healthdata will increasingly be something that is generated passively, day by day, as a byproduct of living our lives and providing care. Much of the data will be generated, shared, and used outside of the health system. It will belong to patients who will use it to manage their lives and help them select physicians and other healthcare professionals to guide them in their quest for a long and healthy life.
Based on a patient’s preferences and needs, the data will flow to those who can best assist them in maintaining their health. It will reveal important and illuminating patterns that were not previously apparent, and with the right system in place, it will trigger awareness and alerts for patients and other providers that will guide behaviors and decisions.
The future will mandate that healthcare systems have sophisticated analytical infrastructures in place to collect, analyze, and display these vast streams of data in ways that assist physicians and other care providers in delivering optimal care. Healthcare has always been dependent on managing information and knowledge to achieve the best possible outcomes, but this will become increasingly truer over the next decade.
Three Aspects of the Data-Driven Healthcare Transformation
This data-driven transformation will likely play out in at least three important ways.
1. Efficient and Effective Operations: Reduce Wasteful Spending
First, health systems will have to use data to run their operations more efficiently and effectively. Data can help healthcare providers better understand their operations. It can spotlight where they are wasting time, energy, and money. If an organization effectively uses information, it can optimize the use of resources, run more efficiently, and maximize reimbursement—all prerequisites for survival in the years ahead. While it sounds simple, this process alone promises to yield major efficiency gains and cost savings for organizations and for the nation. Experts have estimated that between 30 and 50 percent of healthcare expenditures in the United States are waste. Thus, this step alone represents a potential trillion-dollar opportunity to free precious resources for more productive use.
2. Manage Population Health
Second, data can help healthcare providers optimally manage population health. Data can be used to design more effective clinical processes that improve the diagnosis and treatment of the ill and injured. It can help physicians and other care providers understand how to standardize on evidence-based care processes. Standardization on a best practice represents significant additional opportunities to save costs and improve the quality and safety of care. Coupled with a physician’s knowledge and experience, data can augment a clinician’s ability to provide the best possible care.
3. New Technology-enabled Care and Personalized Medicine
Finally, new technology-enabled care delivery models will help healthcare providers deliver care that is more continuous, proactive, and geographically dispersed. Facilitated by the revolution in sensors, these care models will provide vast streams of data and turn society into an enormous learning laboratory. These sensors will provide information about what we do, how we eat, and when we exercise. They will provide information concerning our behaviors and our environments. In short, these new technologies will provide information regarding how we live in the real world and how our activities and environment impact health, disease, and treatments.
With the support of modern digital sensors, former trickles of information will turn into torrents creating vast pools of information that can provide new knowledge. In combination with genomic medicine, this new information will allow care providers to determine the right diet, medications, and therapies for each individual based on their specific situation, thereby delivering care that is far more personalized. And this type of personalized care will be empowering for patients and families, enabling them to participate in their healthmanagement in far more meaningful ways. The opportunities to improve population health are massive. Yes, there are significant issues regarding data security and privacy that must be addressed, but in time, they will be solved.
The Impact of New Data on Healthcare Costs
The impact of these trends on healthcare will be immense, to the point that it becomes hard to predict the ultimate impact on national healthcare expenditures. For years, healthcare policymakers and economists have been projecting massive increases in healthcare spending with each passing year. They correctly point out that this inexorable rise in healthcare costs poses an unacceptable risk to our economy.
While this is certainly of concern, the ultimate impact of aggressive waste elimination, process standardization, and new, more efficient, outpatient-centric care models is hard to quantify, yet it will likely be substantial. These powerful forces promise to drive healthcare expenditures down. As healthcare experiences the exponential impact of technological change, it is likely we will face a far different healthcare world a few years from now. Recall that not long ago we all relied on the thick Yellow Pages left on our doorsteps. Little did we know what impact a small company called Google would have on our lives.
Sooner or later, the same forces that have transformed other industries will fundamentally change healthcare. This will result in entirely new care environments and dynamics. This new world will most definitely revolve around data.
John Haughom, MD, former senior vice president of clinical quality, safety and IT for PeaceHealth, is a senior advisor to Health Catalyst and the author of Healthcare: A Better Way: The New Era of Opportunity.