Imagine a world in which your health information is automatically collected and shared between your doctor, surgeon, hospital, and insurance company — confidentially, seamlessly, and in real time. In this utopia, healthcare providers and medical researchers can also securely access this data to streamline operations and discover novel cures and innovative therapies. This is the promise of the vital union of information technology and healthcare. But with automatic, seamless data sharing comes vast increases in the amount of information collected. That’s why data management is the key to unlocking the virtues of technology for the future of healthcare.
Here’s a little history: In 2009, the US enacted the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health (HITECH) Act—its first substantial commitment of Federal resources for the adoption of electronic health records (EHRs). EHRs are the computer equivalent of the old-fashioned patient files. The goal of the HITECH Act was to transfer patients’ medical histories, treatments, medications and diagnoses into updated, accurate and highly secure digital records to be instantly available to physicians and other health care professionals.
But there was another benefit to the electronic health records initiative—population health management. As the country moves away from a fee-for-service model of health care to a more quality and prevention pay-for-performance model, population health management comes to the forefront. This new model requires analytical measuring and reporting tools known as metrics. These metrics are being used in a variety of ways by a multitude of health care providers, including physicians and researchers. Metrics help to monitor and track the success or outcomes of every program so that treatment decisions, strategies and guidelines can be improved or amended. Metrics are also being used to help reduce readmissions, bring clinical trials and medical breakthroughs to an expanded patient population, reduce unnecessary lab testing, and, ultimately, lower costs.
So bit by bit, and gigabyte by gigabyte, our personal health information is being recorded, sorted, analyzed and banked. Increasingly, physicians, researchers, lab workers, and technicians can conveniently and efficiently coordinate the best possible care, in real time, whenever they need to. But this is not where the healthcare and IT story ends. In fact, it’s just the beginning.
Although healthcare and data-driven IT may sound robotic and impersonal, the practice of evidence-based medicine should always be rooted in compassion with the idea of patient-empowerment— encouraging the patient to participate in his/her health outcomes. Patient-consumer apps being developed by the thousands are readily available and very easy to use. Information technology is enabling patients with chronic diseases, such as diabetes and asthma, to actively manage their own healthcare at the touch of a button.
Excitingly, the whole field of genetics and genomics is opening wide. In the future, new technology will enable patients to become even more proactive in preventing cancers. Currently, there are tests available that can examine a number of potential cancer genes, genetic cancer biomarkers and even mutations. The gene-centric company, OriGene, boasts the development of “unique technologies and products for cancer biomarker discovery and validation.” The company says it has the most comprehensive human cancer tissue biorepository with over 140,000 tissue collections with associated clinical data.
These IT innovations are increasing the volume of health data dramatically, necessitating a data management system that compiles, analyzes and shares with immediate access, taking into account security and regulatory requirements. Handling huge amounts of data is what the Hitachi Clinical Repository (HCR) is all about.
HCR provides a single online repository with storage capabilities that deliver high availability, performance and multi-petabyte scalability, which means it can safely and securely store a user’s lifetime of information so it is available to the healthcare givers that need it. HCR accepts any data type and creates custom metadata indices of this information that enable interoperability of this improved data between external applications such as electronic records, and analytics applications or physician portals. The data can then be made available to other applications, regardless of location or vendor, unlocking healthcare data so medical professionals can access it with greater ease. HCR also provides enterprise-class security for healthcare data, so users can leverage it confidently.
As a patient, you want your doctors and referring doctors to all have access to your most-updated medical records; to be able to analyze the same test results; and to make sure your personal healthcare data is securely and privately stored. As a healthcare provider, you want to treat your patient to the best of your ability; prevent readmissions; and diagnose accurately and quickly. As a researcher, you want to discover medical innovations, and find novel cures and therapies. Technology can be terrifying and overwhelming, but used correctly, it can and should help to do all of this and much, much more.
Americans are just beginning to understand the impact that this vital union of information technology and compassionate healthcare has on our lives. The good news is that it’s come a long way in a short time. Who knows where the future lies?
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