What do a road trip and health information have in common?

I recently spent three days driving across the northern Midwestern States and through a good part of Canada with a longtime friend as we headed to a once-in-a-lifetime wilderness adventure.  As you might imagine our conversations spanning those 72 hours took as many twists and turns as did the roads we traveled.   However, one saying my friend repeated several times stood out among many insightful remarks he’d made, “Your judgement is only as good as your information.“

Since our trip, I’ve continued thinking about his adage and more specifically, as the President of a health IT company, how these words of wisdom apply to patient care.  Healthcare is information-driven.  However, the volume of information in healthcare is growing very fast, which is overwhelming care providers.  To complicate matters further, 80% of that information is in unstructured and non-standardized formats that make it time-consuming to access and difficult to decipher.  As a result, much needed information is effectively off limits to physicians whose important jobs have become increasingly burdened by the task of creating even more information.

The challenge is a tough one.  The Holy Grail of health information management and informatics is to store clinically-actionable information as discrete data that is easily accessible by clinicians and standardized and organized to support decision-making, analysis and reporting.  This is the goal of recently mandated healthcare modernization efforts.  Unfortunately, despite heroic efforts by many hospitals to implement electronic health records, the problem of unstructured data stubbornly persists as many EMR systems remain data silos cloistered within the confines of their private data networks.

As a result, a significant amount of health information is still exchanged through non-interoperable channels, e.g., fax, mail and physician portals.  These documents are typically accessed through the EMR media or documents tab.  While having access to these unstructured documents through the EMR is a step in the right direction, it’s a step that doesn’t go far enough to ease the burden on physicians or to enable them to evaluate this information with the benefit of the decision-support and analytics capabilities of today’s EMR systems. 

In fact, due the effort and time required to sift through these documents, I’ve heard physicians say they won’t do it.  They simply don’t have the time to scroll through the media tab with screen pages full of PDF documents hoping to pick the right one and then having to wade through several pages of dense text that’s useful to the billing department but is of no value to them.

And when this happens; physicians become frustrated, decisions get delayed, duplicate tests are ordered, quality of care suffers, patients are put at greater risk, and the cost of care rises.

Physicians need the right information.  They need it fast.  And they need it to be accurate.

If you're interested in this topic and would like to learn more about how University of Wisconsin Health is dealing with the problem of unstructured health information watch this On-Demand Webinar hosted by Healthcare Informatics.

About the Author: David Rasmussen

With 20 years’ experience leading software companies, David is driven by the challenge to consistently find groundbreaking ways to solve customer problems. He finds it rewarding to hit the customer’s target, but that is only a part of the reward/challenge. Creating and nurturing a great team, building a solid infrastructure, raising and managing capital, avoiding pitfalls, and emerging with a strong value proposition is what the bigger picture is all about for him.