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Tapping into the EHR data flow to improve patient care

November 17, 2016

Elizabeth Meyers, RN, PhD(c), CPHIMS, Industry Strategy Director for Healthcare Analytics

Each time a patient is admitted to the hospital, a tiny message is generated to let every software system know the patient has arrived. Similar messages are sent as the patient is transferred from department to department during their stay, and when they are discharged. Other messages carry lab results, vital signs, and medication orders from system to system. The more technology is employed by a hospital, the larger the interface web becomes. Until, volumes and volumes of data are streaming behind the scenes, making modern patient care possible.

These connections do a great job serving their primary purpose – getting data from one place to another to enable continuity of excellent patient care. But, what if we could tap into those data feeds in real time? What things could be improved if this engine suddenly became aware of the meaning of the data flowing through it?

This type of transformation is happening in other industries. I’m sure by now you’ve heard of ‘smart refrigerators’ that keep track of what’s inside and help automatically create your grocery list. That same type of ingenuity is being applied to streams of HL7 patient data.

In this last of three blogs about using data analytics to improve hospital management and the patient experience, I’m going to look explore some of the early success stories of the pioneers who are making HL7 integration engines smarter. These are great examples of how you can leverage EHR data to improve patient care.

The great news with all the data available to you is that computers are much better than humans at reviewing massive amounts of information in real-time, and cloud-based solutions make it easy to scale processing to meet your needs. Hospitals are beginning to take advantage of this by increasing the number and types of feeds to their central interface engines. It’s easier to make sure all your data is getting to the right place when all of it goes through a central point that’s continuously monitored. A centralized approach overcomes the challenges many IT departments have with knowledge silos around individual software platforms. It’s a small step in the right direction.

Centralizing your interfaces is the basis for in-stream data transformation and monitoring. A great example of this is the work being done by organizations like HCA and Johns Hopkins who are using EHR and patient vital sign data to identify sepsis earlier. Early identification of sepsis decreases length of stay, the costs of care, and saves lives. This is a great illustration of how a single algorithm, using data from multiple sources in real time, can improve expert decision making.

Another example of pioneers who are leveraging data flows is the work of a small group of hospitals to develop an Acute Care Patient Portal–a way to enhance communication between patients, their families, and care providers while the patient is still in the hospital. Portals require many data feeds, but the data can’t just be delivered, it needs to be turned into information, putting it in context for the recipient.

We, the healthcare workforce, have put so much effort into installing software systems over the last ten years. It’s time to follow these leaders and begin to recognize the value of electronic data. Every process improved by EHR data creates a win for your patients.

So, I challenge you to think creatively – if your refrigerator can automatically restock itself with cold beverages, think of the endless possibilities of how your data can be used to improve patient care. How does your organization bring data to life in your organization? Please share what you’re doing here.
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