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HIMSS14: Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Data? Or, How to Eat an Elephant

Posted by Debbie Howlett

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Mar 3, 2014 10:22:00 AM

(reposted from HealthWorks Collective by Steve Goldstein with permission)

HIMSS14 is chock full of interesting folks, as befits a mini-city of 37,000 souls. One of them is Charles Nguyen, vice-president of Netmail, a Montreal-based firm that markets an alternative to email. I’ve been asking around about whether healthcare firms value data and are using it well. The reason Nguyen is here in Orlando is that a sizable chunk of his clients are in healthcare. Here is his take:

“Healthcare is one of the most heavily regulated industries and probably one of the most difficult to manage in the context of data management. Healthcare organizations must not only protect massive volumes of highly sensitive and confidential data that flows through their networks but they also must deal with managing known and unknown threats that can enter an organization from a large number of access points. To make matters worse, they are also burdened with having to comply with very stringent regulations."

As a consequence executive IT management often prioritizes projects towards protecting and securing their environments against the big bad data threat. The challenge behind that is that healthcare organizations often forget about the value that this data can represent! If U.S. healthcare organizations paid more attention to leveraging data more creatively they could create tremendous value, including, but not limited to:

  • Driving efficiency improvements in terms of IT expenditures (re-negotiate contracts based on other agreements);
  • Making data more transparent, accessible and usable at a higher frequency (good for all functional dependent on data –IT, Legal, HR, Operations, Finance etc);
  • Helping clinicians to locate subject matter experts on the topic they are working on;
  • Ensuring better collaboration between healthcare organizations and their business partners;
  • Improving the competitive stance of the business (using natural language process to find trends to improve the business);
  • Improving communication between staff and patient; and
  • Obtaining more funding or accelerating research projects with more efficient data mining.

When asked, CFOs understand the value of big data -- but attempting to use it is a daunting task. They need to not only put the right resources and technology in place but also to limit the scope of the project so as to have the most impact in the shortest amount of time. I often recommend reviewing and updating policies related to email data retention, email privacy, email security, and acceptable usage. Then, map the business workflows and involve the stakeholders to make sure the policies are sound. Last, look at the technologies that will help consolidate the various email data into one archive and searchable repository that is operating system, application (Exchange, Notes, Groupwise) and file-format independent. Preferably, this would be XML-based rather than in databases, as we are dealing with unstructured data and this helps with integration of data from multiple third party data sources.

“What’s the best way to eat an elephant?” said Nguyen. “Start by nibbling at its ears.”

Topics: Email Attachments, HIMSS 2014, big data