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Health care data blog series: Why health care data often underdelivers

By Rob RyanJohn League

May 18, 2022

    As we covered in our first blog in this series on health care data, leaders across the industry see immense opportunity in data and are investing in efforts and companies to support their goals. At the same time, health care data is notoriously difficult to work with, preventing progress on many shared and organizational goals (and perhaps part of why the data vendor market is so large and diverse).

    Health care needs a digital transformation. Is it ready?

    In this blog, we will outline the key problems with health care data and demonstrate the challenges these problems cause for cross-industry leaders.

    Health care's 3 key data challenges

    1. Clinical data is unstructured, inconsistent, and often outdated.

    Health care organizations increasingly seek to conduct analytics on their clinical data to improve clinical protocols and business development. But clinical data is first and foremost a record of patients' health and care that supports clinicians' decision-making at the point of care. The language that clinicians need—detailed and context-specific—is often misaligned with the data tracking needed to support large-scale analysis—structured and uniform.

    At the same time, the process of aggregating and cleaning clinical data can often take months, precluding real-time decision making based on the data for efforts like clinical standardization and risk stratification. This generates a cost: our inability to adapt clinical protocols in real time worsens outcomes and increases cost of care for the patients that could have benefitted from improved protocols and processes.

    2. Data is siloed across and within industry sectors, limiting its comprehensiveness, and therefore representativeness.

    Health care data is most valuable when different types of data can be connected. For example, combining clinical and claims data can produce useful insights on the cost-effectiveness of care because it has detail on both cost (from the claims) and the specific services provided (from the clinical record). But different data types, containing different insights, often are siloed across industry sectors, preventing their synthesis.

    Health care data ownership, by sector


    Even more burdensome, organizations within sectors often shield their data from one another for competitive reasons. Hospital systems, for example, are wary of sharing claims data with one another out of fear of shining light on their relative pricing. But organization-specific data is far less representative of population needs and outcomes than data aggregated across organizations.

    When organizations use these limited datasets to inform clinical protocols or power algorithms, the result is often unrepresentative results that can adversely impact patient care and outcomes.

    3. Leveraging patient data for 'extra-clinical' purposes could increase the risk of breaching patients' privacy.

    HIPAA indeed does offer a strong legal framework for securing sharing sensitive patient data. But the increased volume of data sharing needed to achieve the industry's data ambitions—and the consolidation of that data in the hands of a small few organizations—inherently exposes patients to greater risk that their data is breached or their de-identified data is re-identified.

    Data challenges cause pain points for all sectors

    These and other ecosystem-wide data challenges cascade down into pain points facing many health care stakeholders:


    The depth and breadth of pain points facing each key industry sectors demonstrates that a desire for solutions to our data challenges is widespread. In our final blog of this series on health care data, we will propose three working solutions for how cross-industry leaders could rethink their approach to collecting and analyzing the data our industry needs to achieve its data-related goals.

    Health care needs a digital transformation. Is it ready?

    imageHealth care is behind nearly all other industries on digital transformation. Covid-19 created an opening for change—purchaser demand for digital care skyrocketed and the unsustainability of the industry’s digital-averse business models were exposed. Venture investment dollars have flowed freely ever since.

    In other words, the ambition is large, and the stakes are high. Meanwhile, the barriers are many. Making health care truly digitally enabled will require changing the incentives that underlie industry dynamics altogether.

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