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The Top Six Challenges of Healthcare Data Management

February 28, 2017

Every healthcare organization today is using some type of digital patient data management system. Patient data has to be made readily accessible not only to medical care practitioners in a hospital, clinic or physician’s office, but also to share with diagnosticians, pharmacists and other medical specialists. And as sensitive patient data is stored as electronic health records (EHRs), health information technology (HIT) professionals need to adopt new strategies in order to securely manage and protect that data, and to be sure healthcare data management protocols comply with government regulations such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Medical practices and care facilities have been developing new healthcare data management strategies over the past few years, mostly centered on adoption of EHRs. With the passage of the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act in 2009, medical practices were given financial incentives to adopt EHRs and were told that after 2015, medical practices could be penalized for not implementing EHRs. The HITECH Act has had the desired effect: Statistics show that in 2009, only 21.8 percent of office-based physicians and 12.2 percent of non-federal acute care hospitals used EHRs, but 2013, more than 78 percent of doctors’ offices and 76 percent of hospitals were using some type of basic EHR system. By May 2015, more than 468,000 providers of Medicare and Medicaid services (87 percent) had received $430.4 billion from the HITECH Act in order to implement EHRs.

HIPAA, which was passed into law in 1996 in order to protect patient privacy and ensure sensitive patient information is adequately protected, also has become a great motivator for effective EHR data management. The cost of HIPAA non-compliance is high and ranges up to $50,000 per violation, but medical practices and hospitals can rapidly rack up $1.5 million in fines for failure to address HIPAA concerns.

Even without government incentives, medical care providers are seeing real benefits from healthcare data management: the same types of benefits that other businesses get from effective database management and more. However, medical practitioners also face some unique challenges from healthcare data management:

1. HIPAA compliance – Meeting HIPAA compliance requires a specific set of security measures for EHRs that have to be shared among practitioners and made accessible to patients. This is a challenging balancing act for many healthcare providers. For hospital information system (HIS) managers who are used to operating a closed-network system, implementing shared data access and security protocols using technologies such as cloud computing is new territory. Adequate security is a particular concern, even without HIPAA regulations, because the cost of a data breach in the healthcare industry is significantly higher than in other industries.

2. Mobile computing – Digitizing patient records has made healthcare more efficient. Now, rather than scribbling on medical charts for transcription later, physicians and nurses use computer tablets and handheld data entry systems to access patient records and make entries directly. Direct data entry eliminates steps and reduces errors, but it also means that HIS managers have to provide secure wireless access throughout the care facility with enough bandwidth to support a growing number of handheld workstations. It also means that they have to develop new security and compliance protocols for physicians who want to use their own mobile computing hardware.

3. Sharing patient data – Centralizing patient records is certainly effective within a medical office or hospital, but what about sharing data with outside practitioners? EHR data stores adopted within the healthcare provider environment may be standardized, but external health testing providers, pharmacies and others may use different systems and protocols. Effectively sharing complete medical records and integrating different medical data management systems is an ongoing challenge.

4. Lack of integration between clinical and administration systems – Even internally, there often is an integration gap between patient care and administration. Medical records maintained by physicians and on the hospital floor have to be reflected in accurate insurance claims and patient billing. The data management system has to be configured to ensure that treatment codes match and care given is accurately tracked for both administrative purposes and analytics.

5. Operational analytics – Healthcare data, including EHRs, has become an essential part of measuring operational efficiency. Healthcare workforce management, for example, is largely measured using patient care and healthcare data. HIS managers are looking for new strategies to mine healthcare data to perform productivity and profitability analytics to isolate profit centers and areas of practice that need to be reviewed and revised.

6. Lack of analytics talent – As with data analytics for other industries, healthcare providers are struggling to find the right analytics experts to help them get the most out of their databases. There is a dearth of data scientists, especially those with a healthcare background, who can apply big data analytics to assess healthcare operations.

These are just a few of the concerns that HIS professionals face with healthcare data management systems. In addition to all the challenges that any business must face, hospitals and healthcare providers face a variety of unique data management challenges from government regulators, care collaboration and data security. If you can deliver the expertise to develop effective data management and compliance strategies, then you will prove invaluable to any healthcare provider.