Health Care Hurdles and Headway

by Patrick Quirk

Is there a more exciting, yet challenging industry than health care right now? After decades of promise, the industry is on the cusp of substantially improving quality of care through the use of data. As health care data becomes more available and reliable and thus better suited for meaningful analytics, the industry must also figure out how to protect that same data from the point of collection through consumption by an ever increasing number of legitimate users. Advocacy groups are in full force on both sides of the equation. While some push for increased access to data with greater reliability, others strive to ensure the confidentiality and privacy of the individuals the data represents.

Other industries have faced similar situations and have lessons to share with the health care industry, but there are clearly unique aspects to health care which the industry must figure out how to solve. Most obvious is the connection to quality of care. For every argument for how quality of care can be improved, there is an argument for why data can't be reliably collected without impacting the timeliness of care or privacy concerns. The differentiator for health care is that unlike any other industry, the positive and negative sides of the argument matter more on a personal level as they deal directly with life, death and/or quality of life. While the FDIC will insure the money you have in the bank that may be lost due to bad data practices, once recovered, the loss has minimal impact to your quality of life. In health care, negative impacts to quality of care or reputation can't be repaired as easily as a check from the insurance company.

These consequences must be weighed heavily when it comes to data collection and analysis in health care, but the positive impacts to quality of care are also greater at a personal level than in any other industry. With sufficient population health and program participant data, governments can more effectively allocate funding to those health and social programs which are most effective. A complete medical record can bring significant improvements and new approaches to individual care. With more granular and complete data, medical researchers can provide increased confidence in the accuracy of their findings. The opportunity to significantly improve health care through data is clear.

While most think of improvements in health care data benefitting researchers in a lab or doctors in a hospital, significant improvements to health care can span far beyond these areas. It is easy to image the improvements to quality of care possible when the highly educated and trained ER doctor is armed with a complete medical record of a patient not able to communicate. Where more significant impacts may be realized could be with volunteer first responders with relatively limited medical training. More complete and reliable data could significantly change the procedures and software tools available to first responders. Health care insurance has been in crisis mode for years, partly due to the complexity of health care cases compared to other commonly insured items such as automobiles, property or even life. As data becomes more complete and reliable, insurers may be able to improve the links between behavioral and non-behavioral risks factors and the cost of care. In turn, this could allow more effective programs and financial incentives for preventative care. One final example, in most government entities, budget cuts and allocations get spread across the board due to both politics and a lack of reliable information about the relative effectiveness of various programs. If policy and funding decisions can be improved through data analysis, how much more effectively can tax dollars be spent?

FOQUS Partners is passionate about these opportunities within health care, but also understands the importance of data privacy and security. If you share these qualities, contact us and let's work on the path forward together!