Today’s healthcare landscape often runs on an array of disparate programs, all constantly collecting data — but this approach is at odds with the industry’s need for data centralization, artificial intelligence and modern technological solutions. When data comes from multiple sources, it usually comes in different forms. To effectively use it in different business intelligence (BI) tools, such as analytics and machine learning, this data needs to be standardized while retaining accuracy and any important information, like metadata and historical details. That is where ETL comes in.
ETL refers to extract, transform and load — three vital steps for data integration that prepares it for more powerful business applications.
What Is ETL?
Simply put, ETL is a data integration process. It pulls data from multiple sources and combines it into one centralized location. From there, the information is processed and loaded into the desired data warehouse.
ETL is a vital part of moving data from place to place. It ensures data integrity and flexibility, turning raw data into information you can work with. For example, migrating and converting patient data from an EHR/EMR system to a health information exchange or immunization registry. Additional examples include patient discharge notifications from a hospital system, lab results returned to the system of origin or a referral from one provider to another. ETL is especially important for analytics and AI operations. AI is often cloud-based and large-scale, powering everything from diagnosis tools and research algorithms to decision-making and surgery. It needs huge collections of standardized data to work effectively, which is what ETL facilitates.
Here is what the ETL process looks like:
In the extraction phase, the raw data is copied or exported from its original source location and moved to a staging area. Both structured and unstructured data gets extracted from a wide variety of sources, like applications, databases and cloud, hybrid or on-premise environments.
Say a lab needs to send test results to a healthcare facility. The first step is to export the data from the lab’s database and into a temporary staging space.
While it is in the staging area, the data is processed and transformed to fit its final use. Rules and regulations are applied to support the quality, accessibility and compliance of the data. Some involved processes include cleansing, standardization, verification and de-duplication to ensure that the data is of high quality and usable. This step is crucial for preserving data integrity.
Returning to our lab test example, ETL tools might clean up the data by fixing a typo or flagging an incorrect decimal point. Then it might standardize the title “CBC” to “Complete Blood Count,” which is the format the healthcare provider’s EHR/EMR uses. Once these processes are complete, the data can move to the loading stage.
Finally, the formatted data moves to its final destination in the targeted data warehouse. This step can be performed via full loading or incremental loading. Full loading is comprehensive and transfers over all of the transformed data as unique records. Incremental loading is a little more efficient but less comprehensive. It only creates new records if the incoming data is new and unique.
Those lab tests we talked about get moved into the targeted data warehouse where they reside and can be used by various systems, like the provider’s EHR/EMR. The provider can quickly access these test results and be confident in their accuracy.
What Does ETL Offer?
Healthcare currently involves many disconnected entities, like providers, insurance companies and regulatory agencies, all contributing to massive collections of data — one study estimates that by 2025, 36% of the world’s data will come from healthcare. ETL is necessary for managing this huge, diverse array of information. Data might come from hundreds of sources in structured, unstructured or semi-structured formats. Most platforms need standardization and predictability, and ETL allows them to read your data quickly and easily by converting it to a common data model.
ETL is necessary for many industries, but it can be particularly important for healthcare thanks to several characteristics:
- Accuracy: Unsurprisingly, healthcare data needs to meet strict standards for accuracy. Along with supporting patient health outcomes, reliable data is necessary for staying compliant with regulations and making sound business decisions. ETL ensures that the data does not lose its integrity while moving from place to place.
- Contextual information: ETL can also make sure your data retains any additional information, such as historical data and metadata. It also lets you combine legacy data with new information coming into the practice.
- Faster use: ETL is highly repeatable, minimizing the need for coding by hand or other time-consuming processing tasks.
- Centralization: Bringing your data into one place can improve efficiency by making it easier to access and use. With so many diverse programs involved in healthcare, centralizing your information and standardizing it is critical for putting that data to work in more ways, like analytics.
- Flexibility: With ETL, you can confidently add new systems and platforms knowing they can handle the data that moves through the practice.
ETL Through Happe-Xchange
From EHRs/EMRs and imaging programs to third-party scheduling and document management apps, you might work with a host of different platforms. We created Happe-Xchange to ensure they work together seamlessly. The name aptly refers to Healthcare Application Ecosystem (Happe), the part of your practice that we aim to simplify. Happe uses ETL to streamline your ability to exchange information. You can expand the capabilities of your EHR/EMR, gain new insights and modernize your business without sacrificing security or speed.
Tangible serves as a marketplace for a variety of solutions to meet the needs of a modern healthcare organization. We offer easy integration with partners like athenahealth, Labcorp, Cerner, eCW and Quest Diagnostics, ensuring they talk to each other well. You can connect information from hospitals, accountable care organizations, labs, imaging centers and other clinical data sources to further your work and link providers together.
Happe-Xchange uses a variety of protocols for extensive interoperability, along with data mapping for cross-conversion and a split-feed design for delivery across multiple locations. You can also enjoy at-a-glance dashboards and end-to-end encryption in a secure, cloud-based interface.
All of this comes in a fully managed solution, also called Integration Platform as a Service (iPaaS). iPaaS facilitates the exchange of information between your various Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, allowing you to share information with other databases without time-consuming processes or security issues. We implement and maintain all connections, leaving you to focus on the business. There are minimal IT requirements, and the entire solution is scalable, so you can adjust your system based on evolving business demands.
Stay Connected With Tangible
Maintaining a modern healthcare business calls for a range of platforms and systems, but you cannot sacrifice security or efficiency. Tangible has answered the call as a fully equipped ETL service provider. With a strong iPaaS platform with ETL, you can expand your capabilities and make progress on the goals that matter, like improving communication, efficiency and reporting. However you use your systems, ETL helps them communicate effectively.
To learn more about how Tangible can help integrate your healthcare application ecosystem, please reach out to us today!