How providers can better compete with tech giants in healthcare

3 strategies can help organizations make better use of data, which can give them an edge as new competition emerges from the likes of Amazon, Apple and others.

The drumbeat is building for vast changes in the U.S. healthcare ecosystem.

Amazon just bought online pharmacy PillPack to disrupt drug distribution. Cigna’s merger with Express Scripts got the go ahead from federal regulators. CVS is buying Aetna. And the aforementioned Amazon is also bringing their retail and data crunching power to their non-profit formed with JP Morgan and Berkshire Hathaway to tackle healthcare costs.

Even the new Apple watch has an FDA approved built-in EKG-scanner, and Apple is gaining traction with its health record app, which brings together hospitals, clinics and Apple’s health app to make it easy for consumers to see their medical data from multiple providers.

These mega deals and innovations point to an inevitable change, especially in how healthcare will be delivered and the increasing consumer focus of the industry, with companies like Amazon and Apple involved.

No matter what Amazon or other consumer innovative giants do in healthcare, one can bet that data will be at the heart of it. If the goal is to move to a world of consumer-centric healthcare, easy-to-use data will make or break the effort.

And yet, the ability of data to improve healthcare outcomes still remains largely untapped. A 2017 research article in Health Affairs found that fewer than three in 10 hospitals find, send, receive and integrate electronic patient information from outside providers. Fewer than two in 10 surveyed hospitals often used data from outside provides for patient care. Highly fragmented data is healthcare providers’ most frequently cited roadblock to determining cost of care.

As these surveys show, many opportunities to share patient health data are being missed. Without meaningful data, providers will struggle to collaborate with payers, drive to value-based care models and improve care quality while containing costs.

In many legacy healthcare entities, whether private or public, data is stuck in silos. Data is also drowning in data lakes, used only by data scientists but not operationalized because of a lack of data governance and security. Healthcare organizations experience twice the number of cyber attacks as other industries.

So how can legacy healthcare entities build the bridge from where they are to where they want to be—no matter what the likes of Amazon, Walmart or Apple do in healthcare? Here’s three must-dos to begin.

Clarify strategy. Healthcare is not like other industries, and its digital transformation won’t shake out the same way either. In the insurance industry, there are few reasons why a customer actually has to physically meet an agent. Healthcare, however, is about one-to-one interactions with a care provider. As such, healthcare innovation means leveraging data and technology to make that connection more meaningful. All technology investments—from the database underpinning patient data to devices carried by nurses—should be informed by all available data being used to drive both tactical workflow and strategic decisions.

Maximize integration. Healthcare data will continue to explode in volume. The Apple watch creates just one more potentially massive data stream. As in most industries, healthcare is also seeing more unstructured data from sources such as calls, texts, emails and even social media posts. Meanwhile, mergers bring big data sets together, but that doesn’t necessarily make it useable. Whether those mergers return the desired results will rely heavily on if data gets extracted from silos, successfully integrated and operationalized. Enterprise data integration eats up 60 percent of a typical IT department’s budget—and it still leaves a gap between the operational and analytical needs of a business. An operational data hub eliminates that gap and makes governance, security and access simpler and more effective by fluidly ingesting and harmonizing all kinds of data.

Improve governance. After data is integrated, it has to be well governed, or it’s not really integrated, it’s just stored in the same place. Hadoop technology took off years ago as a data ingestion strategy for many companies, but because so much of the metadata—the data that gives the data context and meaning—is lost in the process, data lakes’ limitations have been ruthlessly exposed. That hype has largely passed, and last year, Gartner deemed Hadoop distributions “obsolete before reaching the Plateau of Productivity.”

For healthcare data to be securely shared, it must be well governed. That means everyone knows where the data came from, when it came, whether it has been changed and by whom. Good data governance and strong policies also boost data security, a must-have in healthcare. The use of artificial intelligence in healthcare also necessitates strong data governance. Garbage in will equal garbage out, no matter how much AI is infused in the middle.

With the right IT infrastructure, companies will no longer be hampered by only using what data “they can get to” to do what they want. Instead, they’ll be empowered to ask, “What data do we need to deliver what we want to deliver?” and use all of it. This is the key to creating a healthcare ecosystem that is digital, consumer centric and seamlessly works to improve health outcomes.

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