Long relegated to the back office, health informatics has assumed a new role at the forefront of American healthcare. Hallelujah. Data, record-sharing and having systems that can actually talk to one another, #interoperability, are the keys to unlocking healthcare data and redefining the future of healthcare.
Dr. William Hersh, a professor of health informatics at the Oregon Health & Science University noted last year on his blog, The Informatics Professor, about how this shift seemed obvious to him and others in the field. He also made a point to say, not surprisingly, that much of the industry is still playing catchup. "Informatics is in the mainstream of healthcare now, and healthcare recognizes that using data and information to improve processes and outcomes while reducing costs is an essential part of doing business," he said. "Clearly there is room for improvement in how operational informatics is being done, but there is no turning back. This means that the priorities for our field are now driven largely by forces external to it. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as we must adapt to play our role optimally for the greater benefit to healthcare."
We couldn't agree more, Dr. Hersh — and our data science team indeed dreams about such validating sentiments. In the spirit of health informatics and data science, we thought we'd take you through a few external forces driving the field and offer a few techie deeper dives brought to your straight from our dev blog, Full Metal Health. We will explore:
- The still-unmet need for health systems to work together and to share records seamlessly
- Emerging applications for health records themselves
- Patient empowerment through consumer-grade technology (and occasionally homemade tech)
Here is a look into how those forces are shaping the future of informatics.
Transparency & Interoperability
Billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent to ensure the digitalization of health records. Issues arise, however, in the movement of said records from and across multiple systems. What happens in turn is that most EHRs or PMS in use today function as walled gardens, from which those records cannot escape or move. Our platform is built to ensure interoperability across all of those systems, thereby freeing the data for transfer, free use and analysis. We did a little digging to see what other people thought:
Patrick Caldwell reported in MotherJones why the vendors of these systems have such an incentive to keep health records within their proprietary silos. These walled gardens are a great way to lock healthcare providers into expensive data ecosystems. This lack of interoperability also causes problems for patients, who cannot easily send their health records from their primary care doctor to their local hospital in an emergency. Why, you ask? It's simple: Because the technologies don't speak the same languages.
"Working in data silos will not improve the exchange of health data; rather, it will create friction in the industry," said Jitin Asnaani, Executive Director of CommonWell Health Alliance, in the Electronic Health Reporter. "Patients expect their doctors to have the information they need to provide them with the best treatment. Doctors struggle to access this important data outside their four walls. The industry has an opportunity to step up and make it possible for providers to access a three-dimensional view of the patient's health history, and in turn, create a new wave of opportunities for the health IT industry."
Infosys EVP of Healthcare, Insurance and Life Sciences Dr. Manish Tandon argues in Healthcare IT News that overcoming this hurdle would be nothing short of revolutionary. He paints a picture of a connected care system in which a diabetic patient showing hypoglycemic symptoms could count on paramedics to respond within minutes thanks to a biometric wearable that communicates with the paramedics' own system.
That reality, however, is still some way off. Tandon writes: "While it is important to adopt the right technology, it is equally essential to build an ecosystem that can enable a connection among all these elements. With a strong infrastructure, this Connected Care approach will take root and have the foundation on which physicians, pharmaceutical and medical companies and payers can connect and leverage the data the devices generate and collect."
New Approaches to Health Data
Patients are discovering quickly that having their health records siloed and accessible only to select providers limits their healthcare options. This is precisely why we have built our API platform. APIs facilitate interoperability through technologies most people are already familiar with, which makes record sharing both user-friendly and relatively easy to secure. Elsewhere, health informatics professionals are re-imagining how they work with patients' health records.
Consider the personal health record (PHR), which patients have access to, unlike the EHR, which only providers can access. Letting patients be the stewards of their own health records could open the doors to many more consumer-friendly models of healthcare delivery.
One example is local SF startup Gliimpse, which has a built platform allowing anyone (in the US for now) to "collect, personalize and share a picture of their health data." A patient then would not need to rely on third parties — and the regulations to which they're subject — to store and share their data. Another interesting application features HydroAssist, an app that allows patients with hydrocephalus — a cerebrospinal fluid condition — to record, track and share their treatment histories.
These among countless other healthcare informatics companies are working to build interoperability into the entire healthcare system — several of which made our list of innovative healthcare startups to watch this year.
The Empowered Patient
So far, we've only touched on what may be the biggest factor shaping the future of health informatics: That technology is now sophisticated enough to allow patients to play a greater and more proactive role in their health.
Just this past fall, the team at Open mHealth released their newest open-source app, Shimmer, which weaves things such as nutrition and fitness data into a person's health record. By integrating with consumer devices and services already tracking this information — Fitbit, Jawbone UP, FatSecret, RunKeeper, among others — Shimmer is able to connect all of that data for free. Open mHealth understand the same thing we do: consumers won't wait for a plodding industry to catch up to their demands, and the companies poised to succeed today understand we — ahem, they — need data healthcare informatics to meet these fervent, albeit reasonable, consumer demands.
In fact, a recent example proves such a statement. British citizen hacker Tim Omer, a diabetic frustrated by the expensive glucose monitors on the market, took matters into his own hands and built his own. He has since partnered with a charity, Great Britain Online Diabetes Community, to share his device nationwide — well played, Tim.
As in nearly every other industry, power in healthcare has shifted to the hands of the consumer. This, and only this, is the way of the future, writes healthcare business advisor and PokitPal Lisa Suennen. "Those companies who will end the game with the biggest prizes will be those that have embraced the idea of engaging with patients in product conceptualization, clinical trial design and, especially, through creating a continuous feedback loop with consumers/patients through monitoring, personalization and responsiveness to patient-reported outcomes," she said, and we couldn't agree more.
She went onto note, "The ones sitting on piles of gold at the end of this race will be those who have risen to the leadership challenge of partnering with their customers in a deep and meaningful way" — and we plan to do just that.
Ian Schneider, Jimmy Mutso, Guillaume de Germain
Tags: API, Dev