Mary Logan: We Need ‘The Points Guy’ for Healthcare Data

Society is drowning in data and yet obsessed with new technology to do cool things with even more data. Marketing gurus compete for our attention through Facebook and Twitter, with the promise of more gigabytes and virtual deals. I need someone to debunk the myths, sort, sift, synthesize, and glean insights from all that’s out there to give me the essence of trustworthy data I can use. I don’t need more; I need better.

“The Points Guy” is that someone for me with travel deals. A traveler and blogger, The Points Guy (aka Brian Kelly) debunks some claims, while sorting, sifting, synthesizing, and gleaning insights about the ever-changing “points” deals for airline miles. I wish he could expand his role to take over the management of the rest of my data-overloaded life.

Like consumers, professionals in healthcare are overwhelmed by data, while at the same time being seduced by the idea of even bigger data. Big data is seductive, for the promise it holds of solving big problems, just like smaller data helps us locate an emergency room or café, learn what time our exercise class starts, or sort through the best airline points deals.

Clinicians don’t have the benefit of The Points Guy, and they don’t have time to learn, let alone absorb, all of the new technology or the data that holds such promise. All data, big or small, is meaningless unless we can use it to make sense of something—or just have fun. Healthcare doesn’t need more data until we have more useful data that we can trust. What we need is the essence of it. We need a talented Points Guy to sort it out for us, and we need to understand “why” we should care about it when bombarded with more.

Data overload is #1 on my list of quality and safety issues in healthcare. Here’s why:

  1. Technology assessments: Healthcare delivery organizations still aren’t doing clinical technology assessments before they make purchase decisions; the process should include an assessment of the data part of the technology.
  2. Training and Competency: Clinician training and competency assessment on new clinical technology (and how to make sense of the data) should be mandatory.
  3. User interface: The user interface for technology is still too complicated for humans who are in constant multitasking mode.
  4. Technology features: Essential technology features, controls and terminology (e.g., on/off, alarm sounds, ventilator modes, instructions for use, cleaning instructions) need to be standardized.
  5. Configuration: Many healthcare delivery organizations adopt technology without configuring it to meet the organization’s needs. Using technology straight out of the box should not be the norm. At the same time, configuration and set-up options and instructions need to be simplified by industry.
  6. Data clutter: The clinician community must unify and standardize what data is needed and actionable (whether we’re talking about weights and measures, drug names, or alarm management) because it’s the only way to reduce the clutter of non-actionable data. Knots in workflow and inefficiencies in processes also contribute to data clutter, as does the lack of a system-wide standardization of these processes. Industry has to do its part, but it can’t simplify data clutter much without the clinician community standardizing data sets (and priorities) first.

For those of you who think the items on my list are too hard to change and you just need some small fixes and easy wins for quality and safety improvements, I ask you to dig deeper. The small fixes and easy wins contribute to data overload because they don’t get to the root causes of why we have these problems in the first place. We are so over-quantified that we don’t have any time left for the real reason we wanted data in the first place: to obtain useful insights that help us make decisions that ultimately will improve patient outcomes. Big data will be useless until we do this hard foundational work.

Don’t get me wrong—I love healthcare technology. A ventilator saved the life of Muffy Scholla (the wife of AAMI’s Board chair) in July. Healthcare technology kept my great-niece Kali alive when she was born premature. Healthcare technology ensured the safety of my new granddaughter Bisi, both in utero and during her birth.

My point is simply that healthcare delivery organizations, the clinician community, and industry need to work together to make the reduction of data overload a higher priority. We need to commit to making sense of healthcare technology data with the same level of passion that consumers have shown in figuring out the latest and greatest deal with airline points.

Mary Logan, JD, CAE, is the president of  the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation (AAMI).

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