ACQUIRE: Getting the Data

Health IT has been on a long quest for data interoperability, but we have not yet arrived. The mantra “First get access to the data” still holds true. Yet there is still a lot of work to do in this area, and it has become apparent that some data will never be reachable. There is a point at which data access is too difficult, too complex, too expensive vs. potential benefit, or too fragile to easily access. At times simple human perverseness outweighs any sense of common good, where cooperation between groups or entry points is non-existent.

From an IT standpoint, this inability to reach all the data is similar to the problems around network service levels. You can never guarantee 100% uptime in a network because you never know when a catastrophic event may physically disrupt your connectivity. Likewise, you can never be sure if you’ll be able to access all of the healthcare data needed, all of the time, without interruption or disruption.

But let’s assume some future state in which accessible data is interoperable, easily reached when needed, and the steps required for further operations have been provided. Now what? Even if we have data interoperability presented in a more dynamic user interface, without analytic and process automation that data will not give us the answers we seek. It’s just data.

In healthcare data is mainly used to support clinical or business aspects of human decisioning. The user is expected to do something – take an action; prescribe something; make a judgment that the data are sufficient, valid and useful for decisioning purposes or arrange for additional data; make a judgment about what a patient should be advised to do; offer an opinion about meaning or quality of data.

Conceptually, all processes in front of the decisioning process (acquiring and assessing data) and all processes after the decisioning process (downstream actions) can and should be automated, since they are collections of information being transmitted through sequences of steps or human interaction.

These processes and analytic automation happen in stages, and over a period of time. But unless we spend as much time and focus on the process and analytic automation as we do on data interoperability we are likely to remain disappointed with our machine support.

Clearly getting access to data when it is needed – interoperability – is fundamental. But so is a clear focus on process and analytic automation. One without the other is unlikely to move us beyond our current state.


Bob Teague, MD, Chief Medical Officer of SocialCare

Bob brings a wealth of experience to his articles based on a career spanning clinical practice in major healthcare institutions as well as leadership roles in multiple entrepreneurial enterprises and Fortune 50 technology enterprises. These financially successful enterprises were transformative in their markets for respiratory home care services, diabetes chronic care management, and Medicare Advantage risk management through transitional care. Bob’s first blog series focuses on a central SocialCare paradigm, “Acquire + Assess + Act”.

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