The healthcare field is teeming with data coming from every direction. If your organization wants to make the most of that data, you might be interested in linking up disparate systems like electronic health records (EHRs), independent labs, mobile apps, imaging platforms and other entities. Building these connections calls for a niche area of expertise and hefty resources. You might be able to set them up in-house, but is it worth it? For many organizations, the time, energy and resources required to create data connections are better spent in other ways.
Solving the Problem of Data Fragmentation
Data fragmentation occurs when your information is scattered across the organization in different systems and locations. It is one of the largest drivers for building connections in healthcare, as it can stop you from seeing the whole picture.
As health technology continues to expand and evolve, the industry collects and interacts with data from more places. Patients might check their lab results on a mobile app or take blood pressure readings from a connected home monitoring device. Providers can take notes on a laptop or tablet, talk to patients via chat systems and use wireless technology to monitor pacemakers.
Even within the healthcare industry, organizations use a massive range of systems, protocols and standards that do not always work well with each other. A patient might see multiple specialists, get bloodwork from an independent lab and have MRI or X-ray results from an imaging center — all of which use different systems. They could use different terms, such as “Complete Blood Count” instead of “CBC,” or file formats that do not fit neatly into your EHR.
Getting all the data into one place can be difficult, preventing providers from achieving value-based care and getting a complete picture of the patient’s health. It could also impede other tasks in healthcare, such as research, administration and billing.
The healthcare industry has more data than ever, but data fragmentation hinders progress and patient care. To make the most of these diverse data sources, we must connect them and make systems interoperable. Interoperability allows different healthcare systems to access, exchange, integrate and use data cooperatively. Achieving this level of seamless data access is a major goal within the health IT industry and crucial to the success of new technologies.
This goal usually requires a process called extract, transform and load (ETL). These terms refer to the steps required to pull data from different sources, convert them into standardized formats and import them into a centralized location. You could have your IT team perform this task, or you can outsource it to a dedicated service provider. After going through the ETL process, the data is ready to be used by various systems for a more interoperable healthcare environment.
A secure, open and seamless health application ecosystem can help in many ways, such as:
- Giving providers a full view of patient health and treatment and diagnosis assistance
- Improving patient-provider communication
- Personalizing healthcare
- Powering artificial intelligence (AI) tools and insights
- Informing population health initiatives
The Challenges of Healthcare Connectivity
Connecting various health systems sits at a unique intersection between IT and the highly regulated world of healthcare. Unsurprisingly, it comes with several challenges.
1. Significant Resource Demands
It might sound simple, but connecting data takes considerable skill, labor and investment. Linking data sources usually requires a long list of hardware components and a highly trained IT team with extensive certifications. This resource demand puts connectivity out of reach for many organizations. Others might set aside other goals in favor of connectivity.
Using a third-party resource can help minimize these requirements. An affordable recurring fee gives you the resources of countless IT experts with different specialties and certifications without high staffing costs.
2. Inconsistent Data
With fragmented data comes inconsistent data. Organizations might use diverse methods for recording information, leading to inconsistencies across data sources. Even within an organization, sources can vary widely in the quality and type of information. They can also include plenty of unstructured data, information such as text and images that do not fit easily into traditional database schemes. This kind of data has enormous possibilities in the field but is hard to standardize and use.
Part of creating a centralized repository of healthcare data requires converting or collecting information in the right format and type. Data collection methods must also address the possibility of duplicated or outdated information that could affect how it is used. A sophisticated healthcare data ecosystem can help ensure standardized, consistent collection across the board.
3. Time Commitment for Users
Some data connections require a change in workflow or a large overhaul of your existing system. They should not cause too much resistance from the end users. You would not want to ask a doctor to add yet another step to their ever-increasing workflow, for example. Implementing a more connected healthcare ecosystem requires commitment at all levels, so it should be as straightforward as possible and integrate with existing workflows.
Determining Your Priorities
With these challenges in mind, consider the impact of having your in-house IT team create the connections versus a dedicated healthcare connectivity service. Using a 3rd-party service can minimize these challenges since their expertise provides immediate quality and value beyond what an in-house approach could typically offer.
Say you decide to tackle connections in-house despite the difficulties. It might take you months to figure things out and get to a point where everything runs somewhat smoothly. You will deal with growing pains and allocate a large portion of your IT resources to this one task. Other priorities might need to take a backseat, and you may start to consider dropping connections altogether because they are getting in the way of your goals.
Alternatively, you could use a third-party service. Outsourcing the system allows you to focus on more critical projects and prioritize the things you find most important. The resource-heavy work of connecting data is essential to modern healthcare operations, but it is a chore that can be easily left to someone else while your IT team uses their unique skills on more valuable tasks.
It might make sense in some cases to dedicate significant time and money to in-house connections, but for most organizations, a third-party solution typically offers more affordable, effective and efficient results.
The Benefits of Using a Third-Party Provider
Working with a third party for your data connectivity is an excellent option for healthcare organizations, thanks to a host of benefits. Outsourcing through Tangible Solutions offers:
- Faster implementation and support: Our team specializes in data connections, so we can work much faster than in-house teams. We have the resources ready to deploy and tried-and-true processes for configuring the right connections your business needs.
- Cost savings: In-house teams come with salaries, benefits, equipment and other costs that pull your resources away from other projects. The managed services model allows us to work in a cost-effective manner while giving you the support of specialized, highly trained professionals.
- Better resource allocation: When you work with a third party, you can use your in-house resources for more valuable tasks and focus on those that matter most to you. We will handle the day-to-day needs of data connectivity and centralization.
- Simplicity: Our approach fits within your existing workflow. Users will not need to change their processes for you to connect with a wide range of other data points and organizations.
- Compliance: An outsourced service also helps you ensure compliance with a team dedicated to connections in the healthcare environment. While data transparency might seem at odds with privacy requirements, the two can happily co-exist with the right system. When they do, you get to promote innovation in the industry and improve care at all levels.
Let Us Make Connections for You
Even if you can make connections yourself, consider whether your time and resources could be better spent elsewhere. At Tangible, we offer several services to help our healthcare clients make the most of their data.
Our Integration as a Service (IPaaS) provides our team’s expertise in establishing the right integration system for your organization. For example, we can help you establish and maintain a Clinical Integrated Network (CIN) to fully connect patient data between participating organizations. Other examples include integrations between; providers and Health Information Exchanges (HIEs), provider and clinical or pathology labs, RIS to PACS, provider to specialist and more.
We can help you build centralized, accurate and compliant data connections to support your goals. From maximized reimbursements to improved care, better accountability and population management, Tangible is your trusted source for fast, cost-effective data connections. Reach out today to learn more about how we can help your team.