When most people think of data, they tend to think in linear, structured terms.  It is almost easier to picture filling out a form online or checking off boxes on a survey; truly simplistic.  The thought is that 1+1 will equal 2, or that A is followed by B, which is followed by C. However, these same theories can't be applied to the data gathered in the health care industry. Health care data and information is diverse, complex and just about as far away from being linear as you might get. Before health care data can be analyzed, it must first be understood, which requires learning more about its unique principles. 

Health Care Data is Located in Numerous Places

Health care data is often gathered from a multitude of sources. Including:

  • EMRs
  • HR software
  • Multiple and different departments across health care organizations
  • Patient portals
  • Wearable technology
  • Multiple health care professionals and locations

Before the data can be understood, it must be aggregated into a central system, like an Enterprise Data Warehouse (EDW). Once the data is in a central location it will be actionable and more easily accessible. However, aggregating the data has never been a simple task. First, the data must be formatted into a cohesive and understandable language to the data warehouse, as it is most often stored as text, numeric, paper, videos, multimedia, and digital files. Once the format has been established, organizations will be able to more easily store the data in a central, and easy to understand, format.

Health Care Data is Both Unstructured and Structured

For years, health care practitioners have captured facts and stored them in a written, paper format with little regard as to how the data would later be analyzed. Now, Electronic Medical Record (EMR) software is attempting to provide a structured and standardized data capture process. However, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn't work in every instance, which causes the continued collection of unstructured data. As time goes on, many health care experts are predicting that EMR products will improve, users will become trained to use this software at the start of their careers, and health care providers will become more comfortable with entering data into a structured system. When the latter event occurs, it will be much easier to collect, analyze, and store health care data across departments, organizations, and the industry as a whole.  

New Research Is Published On A Daily Basis

Articles and health journals are publishing more quickly than ever, especially with the internet and medical facilities and faculties producing scholarly information daily.  This barrage of knowledge often makes it hard to keep consistent definitions. For example, one group of clinicians might define certain asthmatic patients in "Group A" while a different set of clinicians might put the same patients into "Group B." The discrepancies make it harder to properly use the latest research, findings, and facts to properly diagnose patients. A consensus of terms and definitions must be established, if the data is to ever be truly effective. 

Above All Health Care Data Is Complex

One type of data is collected when a patient or practice files a health care claim. Another type of data, such as EMRs, provides a different picture of the patient's story. By combining the two types of data a more complete picture can be achieved. In this vein, standardized processes will make it easier to improve the data's quality and thus the procedures and outcomes for patients. However, the number of data variables makes this task quite a challenging matter. Managing the data, placing the captured data into applications, and analyzing all of the data will require a sophisticated set of tools. Once these tools have been established, health care professionals will be in a significantly better position to analyze the data.

Analyzing and understanding health care data is not as simple as looking at a series of numbers, facts, or findings. It is a careful process that is constantly influx. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel; by establishing standardized processes, and implementing best practices across health care disciplines, health care data will be more easily captured, stored, managed, and subsequently analyzed. Through this stringent process the health care data will finally be understood, so that it can be used to the betterment of organizations and individual patients.

All of this is not going to happen overnight, nor is it going to happen without bumps in the road of progress.  Finding common ground for everyone to agree upon and work from has never been an easy task to accomplish, and the health care industry is no acception.  But, more and more, as compromises are made with regards to standardizations, the easier it will be to turn the complexities of health care into common practice and overall improvement to personal care.