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Little foundation for adoption of healthcare analytics tools

The healthcare industry has to get better at data management basics before they push headlong into the adoption of analytics tools.

Various industries have developed analytics tools that could improve the delivery of care, but implementing them in the healthcare industry could prove challenging.

Speaking during a Deloitte webcast, titled "The big data revolution: Unlocking the power of healthcare analytics," David Biel, principal and national technology lead in the Life Sciences and Health Care practice at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said there are a number of factors pushing providers to adopt analytics. Payment reform is the biggest driver. Payers, both public and private, are increasingly trying to get providers to reorganize themselves as accountable care organizations. At the same time, there is a lot of convergence among providers and payers, with a number of mergers creating integrated care delivery systems. These types of organizations put a premium on being able to analyze data to improve treatment outcomes and lower costs.

Other industries have already developed tools for this, but the challenge is applying it to healthcare.

Brett Davis,
principal, Deloitte Health Informatics

"From a data perspective, that's driving the need to mix together clinical and claims data so you can understand what's happening within a cohort," Biel said.

But it may be a challenge for many providers to get to this point. Healthcare is still at a point where the fundamentals of data management are stumbling blocks, Biel said. Right now, many organizations, even large integrated delivery networks, do not have centralized data warehouses that organize patient records and claims in a useful way. Most providers have small data systems that serve a single department. This keeps information siloed and makes it difficult to pull together large data sets on entire patient populations to look for meaningful relationships.

Privacy is another major factor holding back the adoption and use of healthcare analytics tools. Dan Housman, director and chief technology officer at Recombinant By Deloitte, a data warehousing consulting firm, said there is a lot of confusion around privacy regulations. A lot of providers think HIPAA laws prevent them from moving or sharing data, a misconception that hinders analytic work.

But while some providers may think they are more handcuffed by privacy laws than they are, HIPAA does still present challenges. For example, Housman said, patients are supposed to be able to ask for a record of everyone employed by their provider who touched their data. However, it is unclear if this applies to analytics vendors who use de-identified data for statistical analyses.

Housman said there have always been questions about who was allowed to look at a patient record, but now, as more and more information gets stored in EHR documents, the answers to these questions are becoming even less clear. In order to make analytics a bigger part of clinical care delivery, the industry will need to figure out how to maintain patient privacy while giving data analysts the access they need.

Brett Davis, general manager of Deloitte Health Informatics, said providers have access to more electronic data than ever before, and all this information represents an opportunity. One of the key challenges will be in figuring out how to locate meaningful information within noisy data sets. Davis said other industries have already developed the technology to do this, so it is not principally a technology problem. The main task will be to implement these analytics tools within healthcare's unique regulatory environment and technological limitations.

"Other industries have already developed tools for this, but the challenge is applying it to healthcare," he said. "All these new data sources are going to present additional opportunities and challenges going forward."

Ed Burns is site editor of SearchBusinessAnalytics. Email him at and follow him on Twitter: @EdBurnsTT.

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