Fierce Q&A: CSC analyst on the need for hospitals to improve data use

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Jared RhoadsHospitals are increasingly using data to improve patient care. Take, for example, Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, which recently created a new startup called QI Healthcare to commercialize technology created there. QI Healthcare's first product--Surgical Outcomes Collection System (SOCS)--aggregates data from various hospital systems, including electronic medical records, to enable "institution-wide analyses of cases to identify opportunities to improve patient care."

What's more, St. Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis launched a new website earlier this year to share data and discoveries with other researchers regarding pediatric cancer.

Hospitals overall, though, still could be doing a better job of using data, Computer Sciences Corporation senior research analyst Jared Rhoads concludes in a recently published CSC whitepaper, "Transforming Healthcare Through Better Use of Data." In particular, he thinks silos within organizations need to be broken down.

In part 1 of this exclusive interview with FierceHealthIT, Rhoads (pictured), talks about the how hospitals can make better use of data and the benefits of data mining.

FierceHealthIT: What would you say hospitals currently are doing well with regard to data use, considering this paper focuses on how they can improve?

Rhoads: Many hospitals have become good at generating reporting, doing historical analysis and some financial analysis, but these things are pretty far removed from care. The goal is to be able to use data more actively to guide, direct and inform care as it is delivered. That means a need for real-time or near-real-time access and analysis.

FHIT: The paper also mentions care tracking and improvement efforts often are limited to departments, rather than across departments/organizations. Why do you think that is?

Rhoads: Initiatives are often launched at the department level because different parts of the hospital are at different stages of comfort and maturity with IT. Safety and quality programs often begin at the department level and are integrated into workflows at that level. Outcomes reporting is usually done hospital-wide. But to avoid gaps and maintain continuity, there needs to be more cross-departmental integration and sharing.

FHIT: Much of the solutions recommended seem to focus on data mining and its benefits. Is that in a patient's best interests and if so, how can patients be convinced of this?

Rhoads: Most patient surveys show that patients are willing to provide data (particularly de-identified data) if they and/or others with similar diseases will benefit through new and improved treatment protocols. When patients are asked for consent, they need to be told how their data will be used, the possible benefits and processes in place to protect their privacy.

For example, Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Fla., has established a Life Long Cancer Care Network that promised cancer patients who agree to provide access to their genomic and clinical data that their doctor will be informed of relevant clinical trials if and when standard therapy fails.

Another thing hospitals can do is to have clear, plain-English language about their policies. In a fall 2011 survey, 30 percent of consumers said that, if all else were equal (in terms of cost, quality, etc.), they would prefer to go to the hospital with the clearest privacy and security policies.

Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Look for part 2 of the interview in tomorrow's FierceHealthIT.

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