The healthcare industry is currently suffering from something close to information overload. The overwhelming volume of data is threatening to bury healthcare providers in an avalanche of unstructured patient information that hinders rather than helps the delivery of patient care.

The Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said that ‘when information overload occurs, pattern recognition is how to determine truth.’ But the problem is that so much of the data generated by healthcare organisations is unstructured, siloed, and not readily accessible, making it difficult (if not impossible) to uncover those key patterns at the heart of the data.

Indeed, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reports that up to 80% of any given patient’s medical record can be unstructured. And much of it is held across multiple siloed repositories, making it difficult to access, examine and use to actually deliver patient care.

With all of that in the way, how can healthcare organisations get to grips with the data, and transform from a state of information overload to one of smart, integrated care delivery?

Integration to acceleration

It is vital for practitioners in healthcare to be able to understand and utilise the value of unstructured patient information. This information can include inter-provider communications about a patient, letters of medical necessity, referrals, practitioners’ notes, and images such as scan results or pictures of a visible condition.

The first step in using data to deliver better patient care is to integrate all of this information, breaking down the siloes between segmenting different parts of the healthcare ecosystem. Piecing this fragmented data together will give those on the frontline of patient care and planning the context and visibility they need to improve and accelerate treatment for patients.

Technology, of course, is key to this. No team of human operators, no matter how well-resourced, could hope to process and parse zettabytes of data held in these repositories, so providers need tech that can gather it all up, structure it and create a fully integrated, patient-centric view of all essential information. This must go beyond the standard electronic medical record (EMR) in capturing everything – regardless of source, location, or format – relevant to improving patient outcomes and reducing costs.

Using the latest enterprise content management technology, data from legacy EMR systems can be archived, paper records can be captured and digitized, and all of this data can then be delivered in actionable, contextual form to the practitioner within the patient’s current medical record. This can also help in addressing specific needs around social determinants of health, and gaps in care which both require data beyond the typical medical record.

This also has the benefit of improving collaboration between individuals in care teams, as well as multi-disciplinary teams. It all boils down to getting healthcare practitioners the information they need, when they need it. So, whether they are reviewing records in the course of planning treatment or dealing directly with patients, an integrated record is key.

The value of advanced enterprise content management systems also extends to another great challenge in the industry: data security and compliance. Sharing information between individuals, teams, and sites obviously means it is vulnerable to exposure during that transfer. Enterprise content management makes it possible to automate compliance protocols, so that risk of data exposure is reduced without inhibiting collaboration.

Taming the data to create an integrated future for healthcare

Taming the unruly mass of data generated by a proliferating number of devices is the crucial next step in the transformation of healthcare. Technologies that can integrate, automate, and deliver patient information accurately and securely will become increasingly key as that transformation plays out over the coming months and years. Within that, expect modern enterprise content management to play a pivotal role in the technology mix.

This remains a challenging time for many in the sector, with cost pressures, public health crises and operational complexities getting in the way of delivering great care. But if there’s one thing we all know by now, it’s the resiliency and adaptability of the healthcare sector.

With the right approach to managing patient information, I think there are some really exciting opportunities waiting to be grasped in changing the way we improve quality of life for people all around the world.

By Scott Lundstrom, Sr. Industry Strategist – Healthcare at OpenText

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