Healthcare News & Insights

Personalized medicine: Future of health care

stethescope heart beatMore and more, electronic health records (EHR) systems are being used to provide patients with personalized health care. In this guest post, Asha Saxena, president and CEO of a data management firm, gives hospital executives a rundown of the benefits, drawbacks and requirements of using technology for personalized medicine. 

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As the adoption of electronic health records (EHR) systems increases every year, one key question arises: What’s really being done with all of this valuable patient information?

Is it simply being stored somewhere, waiting for the next time a patient falls ill? Or can it be used to offer more personalized care to benefit patients’ future health?

As the adoption of electronic medical records increases every year, one key question arises: What’s really being done with all of this valuable patient information? Is it simply being stored somewhere, waiting for the next time a patient falls ill? Or can it be used to offer more personalized care to benefit patients’ future health?

The advancement of technology in health care isn’t only meant to make things more convenient for hospitals and physicians when treating patients — it’s also meant to challenge the healthcare industry to find innovative ways to improve the overall quality of care.

Most healthcare facilities have taken the first step toward enhancing the quality of care by going digital, but the next step — the widespread adoption of personalized, evidence-based medicine (EBM) — is what will truly revolutionize patient care.

Benefits of personalized EBM

Personalized EBM uses stored health data — including everything from patient diagnoses, lab work, insurance claims and general demographic information — to move beyond the reactive approach of treating illness, allowing healthcare providers to predict and prevent future illnesses.

In fact, with a proper data infrastructure in place, this system can even warn staff when patients are in danger of developing diseases, giving them an advantage they’ve never had before.

This is in stark contrast to unstructured physician notes, previously sparse data collection methods and uncertainty about which pieces of data are relevant in various situations.

Here are some key advantages that personalized EBM offers hospitals, patients and administrators:

  • prevention of illness before it has time to cause physical damage
  • years of data about each patient, available to any treating physician
  • ample demographic information for data analysis
  • scalable technology designed to work with sparse data
  • computational efficiency for population-wide analysis
  • learning techniques that can incorporate user feedback, and
  • condensable data on “at a glance” dashboards for quick and accurate decisions.

Adoption barriers

Despite its many improvements to patient care, this approach has yet to see widespread adoption. In fact, it has even been met with some criticism.

Many healthcare professionals have noted the difficulty of sifting through massive amounts of data and drawing conclusions based on such vast information. However, the implementation of two simple solutions could streamline the process and draw purpose from the chaos:

  1. Enhance data with visualization. Visuals make data easier to understand by organizing information into a user-friendly format that’s quick to scan and easy to comprehend. In the healthcare setting, data visualization displays patient information so physicians can interpret and compare demographics, symptoms, stats and test results to make accurate diagnoses.
  2.  Appoint a data leader. Research shows that the trick to successfully leveraging analytics starts with the appointment of a chief analytics officer. This person will help you build a hospital-wide data strategy, make sense of the information you’ve gathered, train staff on technology and provide physicians with information that’s easy to interpret.

Even with this streamlined process, however, some patients are voicing privacy concerns about the amount of data being tracked.

For example, Carolinas HealthCare System is tracking information on consumer spending, such as cigarette purchases or pharmacy transactions, to paint a more complete picture than the peek that physicians get during checkups. Then, the data is placed into predictive models that assign risk scores to patients.

This will dissuade harmful habits for some. But for others, it’ll just feel like an invasion of privacy, and they’ll see it as insensitive behavior.

Finding a place for EBM

Although these barriers have likely slowed its acceptance, it’s important for healthcare administrators to continue to push for a shift toward personalized EBM.

It’s crucial to have this structure in place to reach patients before they enter the at-risk stage. It’s more difficult to make life-or-death decisions about at-risk patients without enough information. On the other hand, having visual access to personalized, evidence-based data can lead to smarter, quicker decisions.

If hospitals want to be successful in a data-driven world, they’ll need to create an infrastructure around their data to give themselves a competitive advantage in a busy industry.

Although personalized EBM is still in its infancy, hospitals and other healthcare entities need to do more than rely on the convenience of EHR systems to respond to patient needs. They must develop effective, organized data analysis systems and adopt an approach to health care that combines personalized EBM with efficient data visualization. Only then can hospitals transform a routine visit into a potentially life-changing event for a patient.

Asha Saxena is the president and CEO of Future Technologies Inc., an international data management solutions firm. FTI’s Center for Analytics Services (CAS) provides data management and analytics solutions through business strategy and technology development.

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