Healthcare and Data: What does the future hold?

Data management is complicated for any industry, but it poses some unique challenges for healthcare. It’s uniquely positioned to use data in new and interesting ways that not only improve businesses, but also improves people’s lives. On the flipside, healthcare companies must safeguard the most personal information in a highly regulated environment.

The main challenge when it comes to data in the $ 3 trillion U.S. healthcare industry is a familiar one: Silos. Healthcare data is fragmented across a complex web of care providers, hospitals, insurers, government agencies and more according to experts. However, since the US has a for profit healthcare system, the siloes are by design and in some cases players manage data quite well, and then state and federal laws are designed to limit data portability so paradoxically the system is working as designed.

“Data is everywhere, and it’s growing at an exponential rate,” especially with the increase in digital health technologies each year at CES. But the problem with this data being everywhere is that “it’s hidden and packed away, and it’s incredibly fragmented,” Dwayne Spradlin, CEO of the non-profit Health Data Consortium, mentioned to Forbes.

But the potential upside of pulling all that information together could be huge: The ability to cure diseases, improve treatment, cut costs and improve quality of care across our healthcare systems. However, it comes with security challenges. Privacy isn’t just a best practice; it’s often legally protected when it comes to health records.

“We have an enormous interest in ensuring that patient health information is, in fact, closely held,” Spradlin said. “It’s considered something you have a right to.”

Although the industry is heavily regulated, compliance with privacy laws isn’t necessarily risk protection enough, as healthcare companies are increasingly finding out.

Data breaches may not be making headlines like they do at retailers, but they are indeed on the rise, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Hackers are using digital healthcare information to steal identities and commit fraud, said John Pescatore, director of emerging security trends at SANS Institute, a cybersecurity research and education organization.

“There’s been near zero reaction from the health-care industry,” he told the Journal.

In addition, detected incidents reported by health-care providers and payers in a two-month period in 2014 were 60% higher than for a similar period in 2013. Financial losses increased 282% over 2013, according to a recent report by PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

The key is to allow some time for big data and healthcare to grow and to manage expectations as it does.

The bottom line: “We should have realistic expectations,” Spradlin said. “There will be big breaches of healthcare data. There will be insights drawn from the data that are wrong, but as we really use and exercise these methods, the system will become evidence-driven and outcomes-driven… and the individual will become empowered, and some of the things we want to happen will happen.”

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