The United States’ health system is struggling between the past and the future. The system has the most advanced regulations, which force the many actors –doctors, hospitals, service providers, insurance companies, private health centers and other providers– to keep single electronic records. The records must log every patient interaction. In spite of all this, paper records still survive as a cultural barrier. To this day, the data corresponding to most of the visits are printed and faxed to be processed later. The irony is that faxing was discontinued from practically every business segment some thirty years ago, precisely because it is inefficient when sharing data and interoperating with other systems. Furthermore, faxing is mechanically complex, with papers that get stuck and weak printouts.

The implementation of Electronic Health Records (EHR) is the first step to find a solution. However, there is still a long way to go. EHRs have been adopted by practically every health center, but there are many different systems that are not interconnected.

From paper to intelligence

The double standard of digitalization and paper produces millions of pages a day –with all the resulting environmental consequences– and, additionally, prevents innovation and hinders the improvement of the patient’s experience. Why is this? If a patient is treated in a hospital for a given medical condition, and then visits a private physician for another reason, the information may not be cross-matched. Consequently, patients will not be offered a specialized treatment that contemplates their clinical picture, or no progress will be made to find a holistic solution to their problem that covers both circumstances. This is just one example of how the lack of data centralization sustains a health industry that is anchored in the past.

Other segments are already leveraging the power of data. As consumers, very frequently we are at a retail store or a supermarket and, depending on what picks our interest, what shelves we visit or the type of products we buy at a given time, we then get personalized, targeted offers. For the time being, this type of intelligence is impossible in the health sector.

In the United States alone, millions of health visits take place every day, which generates an overwhelming amount of data. The vast majority of the data will never be used again, and will continue to take up storage space and piles of faxes in various locations. According to current estimations, the health information of a single person can be disseminated in as many as 100 different systems or locations.

Unlocking the value of data

The value hidden in the data is amazing. They hold the potential to generate a more efficient service, to stimulate innovation in treatments or to understand the new trends in terms of public health (for instance, to anticipate the appearance of epidemics). Data can be a very valuable ally to better manage the constant shortage of the sector’s resources: from availability of hospital beds to the distribution of medical staff and the optimization of inputs in terms of the demand.

How do we unlock the potential of data? The key factor is working with the system as a whole, to promote connectivity and generate cutting-edge applications that are user-friendly and attractive. This way, all the actors will start generating the mindset change that will pave the way to discontinuing paper. At the same time, incentives will have to be managed so that providers can optimize data exchange and strive to improve healthcare and patient experience. In the future, the huge volume of data will hold the potential to improve people’s health significantly. To reach this target, the sector needs to modernize itself and, essentially, do away with all those faxes that are obstructing the way.

We will continue talking about this topic in later posts and how  we are helping our partners from healthcare industry to unlock the potential of data through digital transformation, stay tuned!