Putting Healthcare Data to Work

How platform-based healthcare companies are poised to transform an industry


Platform-based healthcare businesses are poised to transform healthcare by leveraging once-fragmented and disparate data, but barriers remain.


By: Steven Martin Executive Vice President, Enterprise Technology Change Healthcare

The accelerating migration to value-based healthcare models makes addressing inefficiencies more vital than ever. Couple that with more educated and empowered healthcare consumers, who are demanding (and deserve) a better patient experience, it’s understandable that there is so much investment in healthcare innovation right now. 

The accelerating migration to value-based healthcare models makes addressing inefficiencies more vital than ever. Couple that with more educated and empowered healthcare consumers who need a better patient experience, it’s understandable that there is so much investment in healthcare innovation right now.

According to a Deloitte analysis of Rock Health’s Digital Health Funding database, health technology venture funding is growing at “an unprecedented pace,” more than doubling each of the last two years, to $29.1 billion in 2021. Many of these startups are platform-based business models, ecosystems that leverage the reach and scale of digital networks to innovate new and more powerful products.

A platform-based business model is best suited to transform our highly fragmented healthcare system. Hopefully we are at an inflection point post-COVID, where all stakeholders recognize the need to modernize our healthcare IT infrastructure to improve outcomes for patients, providers, and patients.

Healthcare data: the most underutilized asset

A hallmark of a platform-based business is the identification of underutilized assets. In healthcare, the biggest such asset is data. According to RBC Capital Markets, fully 30% of all global data is healthcare data; the average individual produces a whopping 270 gigabytes of health data per year. Yet, we still have to fill out the same paper forms over and over again, every time we see the doctor. More broadly, our health systems are still largely unable to accurately predict utilization levels and adjust capacity accordingly.

To better coalesce and leverage this data, it is essential that we make data more portable and fluid. Seven years ago, the 21st Century Cures Act established the goal of better sharing of data, both to benefit patients who want better control of their personal information and to spur industry innovation. Despite this laudable goal, progress has been slow. Platform-based healthcare business models can have a transformative effect but only if we are able to get data flowing more freely.

National data, local impact

There is a paradox when it comes to deriving localized insight from healthcare data. In order to understand what is happening in a particular locality, providers and health systems need access to broader, national data sets. That’s because their sample sizes will always be too small to deliver valuable predictive insights. If they can draw on national data, however, they are able to leverage statistically meaningful amounts of data that enable the recognition of trends for certain types of patients, trends that would otherwise be invisible to them because they have so few data points on any given demographic cohort.

This is particularly true with social determinants of health (SDoH). We know that economic status, housing environment, financial literacy, and other factors have a big impact on healthcare utilization and clinical outcomes. But only through big data sets can providers gain visibility on how these SDoH factors will affect their patients locally—big, national pools of data leveraged locally. Healthcare platforms that can coalesce and analyze these data from the broadest number of sources possible will have the greatest impact.

A platform-centric approach also aids in more prosaic—but vital—aspects of healthcare delivery like scheduling. You might find providers that are using bots to collect scheduling information, which is then sent to a scheduler. The insight is only helpful in the most rudimentary way. However, if we can connect the system back to EMRs and CDC data (in a HIPAA®-compliant way that preserves the sanctity of patient data), we can better forecast overall staffing needs and manage resources more effectively. During a crisis, we can direct resources to where they are needed most.

Adopting a platform approach

There are several factors that delay providers from embracing platform-centric systems. The first, as is so often the case, is limited resources. While healthcare IT spending is rising as providers recover from the pandemic, it is still relatively less than many other industries. There is also a natural bias toward incumbent, proprietary systems. Because these legacy systems are usually housed on-site, constant maintenance and updating inevitably swallows up a lot of organizations’ IT spend. Aside from the benefits of connectivity, platform-based systems are also far easier and less expensive for providers to update and maintain, operating as they do in the cloud. Long term, this leads to savings and increased agility.

Another barrier is cybersecurity. Despite evidence to the contrary, there is still the notion with some in the industry that “security through obscurity” is the most effective way to safeguard data. It isn’t. It may be counterintuitive, but housing data in the cloud—protected by security teams that are far more robust than what any single health system could afford on its own—is a safer choice.

Platform-based models drive innovation

By some measures, the healthcare industry has made greater strides toward digitization in the last 18 months than it did in the previous decade. The move to telemedicine during the pandemic has been a big part of this shift. Telemedicine platforms were able to identify excess capacity (available clinicians) and provide the technology to connect doctors and patients safely. While these platforms existed before the pandemic, their growth and adoption were accelerated by the exigencies of the pandemic.

Healthcare digitization is bound to continue, as both providers and patients see the benefits of sharing and leveraging data. It’s my belief that this long-overdue process will improve outcomes—clinical and financial—and simultaneously improve the patient experience. The data is out there; it just needs to be utilized. Platform-based healthcare companies are perfectly positioned to help do just that.

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