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As providers handle more data than ever before, many have either upgraded or replaced their database management...

system (DBMS). Vendors often use a DBMS under the hood of an electronic health records system to allow their customers to capture and manage clinical information. Providers now want more than to just store and report on captured data. They are looking for tools to help them learn from past care decisions and improve future performance. A clinical analytics platform can assist in this area.

Clinical data can be stored in various formats. One example is structured data within an EHR, which is easily reportable. Information such as diagnoses or some lab results are simple to record and analyze. Semi-structured data in healthcare is commonly seen in an extensible markup language format. In some cases it remains in its original format or is translated into structured data. Examples of semi-structured data are seen in lab results that use the Health Level 7 Version 3. The final category is unstructured data, which includes free-text clinical notes, scanned documents or possibly medical imaging. All these types of data come together to make a patient's medical record.

Across healthcare systems, a significant amount of data is semi-structured or unstructured. Without the right tools, it's very challenging to mine data in those formats. That task, combined with the increasing pressure to improve patient outcomes, safety and population health, has driven many healthcare IT executives to consider analytics approaches.

Using existing data in a meaningful way to develop insights into patients' conditions and the potential for evidence-based clinical decision support are two additional reasons providers are adopting analytics platforms.

How to evaluate a clinical analytics platform

One pixel John Halamka uses big data analytics in
healthcare to fight wife's cancer

Once an organization has defined its objectives and goals, there are five questions it should ask when selecting a clinical analytics platform to be certain it is the right choice.

Will the platform help solve problems?

This is an important question to ask upfront, as it's critical to hone in on why a new analytics platform is needed and what it should help fix. Analytics systems offer a wide range of capabilities, but a provider should have a clear idea of what they want from a system before purchase and deployment. If the intended use is to help detect abnormalities in medical imaging, there are some products that can analyze and categorize that data. If the goal is to help extract clinical data from physicians' notes, then an analytics platform equipped with natural language processing would be the preferred solution.

Does the vendor have experience with your systems?

Analytics platforms require the knowledge and participation of employees with different skill sets including healthcare technology analysts, data scientists and clinical staff. Health IT executives must look for vendors with products deployed in similar health systems that can be used right out of the box. This allows the hospital to avoid starting from scratch and permits it to spend more time developing a more advanced analytics plan.

How secure is the data?

Some analytics vendors that offer hosted systems move some of their data into cloud storage because the size of the data sets being analyzed could otherwise slow down system performance. In the cloud or not, it is extremely important to note that these vendors meet all HIPAA requirements and protect the clinical data in their possession.

What is the cost?

Pricing models for analytics platforms differ significantly. There are products that are priced based on the number of users and others that charge according to the amount of data or number of computations performed on the data. Healthcare IT executives must be able to predict overall costs to justify their purchases and determine an accurate return on investment.

Can the platform be integrated?

Providing clinical and administrative staff with real-time actionable feedback is a functionality that offers significant value, particularly when clinicians must make decisions quickly. Not all analytics products offer this feature. Some analytics tools do a great job of letting clinical staff examine and study trends based on past care decisions and results. Analytics tools that offer real-time feedback have been the most successful in clinical environments.

Analytics vendors are constantly adding new components to their systems. Some are focused on selling their products within the healthcare industry. Healthcare providers seeking to reduce costs and improve patient care might find those goals easier to attain by working with those vendors because their analytics systems and tools are designed to solve data challenges specific to healthcare.

About the author
Reda Chouffani is vice president of development at Biz Technology Solutions Inc., which provides software design, development and deployment services for the healthcare industry. Let us know what you think about the story; email editor@searchhealthit.com or contact @SearchHealthIT on Twitter.

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This was last published in October 2015
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