Understanding & Overcoming Common Data Complexities

January 16, 2017

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Data environments throughout the healthcare landscape are growing exponentially, evolving even before effective data collection strategies can be put in place. With new regulations and requirements mandated every year, both healthcare organizations and software vendors are challenged with developing data collection and evaluation processes that can be standardized across departments.

This rapid evolution is making traditional EHRs obsolete, begetting the need for a solution that combines structured data capture with interoperability. To understand what this solution looks like, it’s important to identify the major improvement areas that will ultimately enable a single source of truth.

  • Opportunity: Obtain a Single Source of Truth
    • Data sharing: It’s no secret that health information is sensitive, especially in mental health. Policies such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) and Protected Health Information (PHI) make it extremely difficult to share data via technological means.
    • Standardized workflows: The term ‘workflow’ is often synonymous with process and procedure. But when it comes to BH, workflows are anything but standard, presenting countless exceptions and workarounds that can only be simplified at the core of the business.
    • Consistent rules: BH organizations and departments maintain layers and layers of rules that make defining and processing information near impossible; what is considered standard to one department is an exception to another. This makes communicating, let alone being productive, difficult and poses tremendous challenges to an outside EHR vendor.
  • Situation: Traditional EHRs No Longer Work
    At minimum, EHRs help healthcare organizations collect data. When set up for success, they should help everyone in an organization – from executives to frontline clinicians – share, process and analyze the data by offering a single source of truth. However, with so many variables derived from unstable workflows and inconsistent rules, these critical EHR functions are falling by the wayside: 
    • Out-of-the-box products: Many providers argue that for small BH organizations, an out-of-the-box EHR product is best. This might be true at the start, but once the product starts ruling the workflows and data, the organization is unavoidably going to want more – a need that is only accomplished through costly and timely customizations that will likely require a third party.
    • Customized software: On the contrary, larger and more niche BH organizations often look to customized EHR solutions to fit their unique needs. Some EHR providers claim to offer complete customization, but if a vendor has 50 clients, each with 50 different customizations, the model becomes unsustainable and unable to stay updated with new regulations.

    These options, while each effective in their own way, tend to result in even more challenges such as the creation of manual, ad-hoc processes, the use of spreadsheets and standalone databases and of course, the increased project costs and risks – all of which prevent the fruition of a single source of truth.

  • Solution: EHR Platforms vs. EHR Products

    Rather than relying on customized solutions to magically address these challenges, providers and vendors are collaborating to create a valuable solution known as a 'platform'. A platform maintains all of the capabilities of an EHR product but also includes a robust set of tools and APIs that can be used and enhanced by customers or third parties.

    A good example of a working platform is the Apple iPhone. When it was introduced to the market, the iPhone had a mere 15 applications to offer its users. However, as a platform, the device allowed other people – customers and third parties – to create apps and add their own value. Today, the product is seemingly limitless, offering users with more than one million apps. Instead of its value being solely created by the vendor, it’s collaborative and created by all.

Because of the growth in data environments and the consistant implementation of new regulations, healthcare organizations and software vendors need to evolve their data collection and evaluation processes. By working together to develop a viable solution that combines structured data capture with interoperability, providers and vendors can adjust their capabilities to adapt seamlessly to data complexities.