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Managing Health Data in a Digital World

Data management and data security are big topics in an increasingly digital world, and when it comes to healthcare the story is no different.

Why collect health data?

Patient information is often collected to make more informed decisions on how to best deliver care. Those decisions can be for the benefit of an individual patient, or to help revise protocols for a large institution, such as a hospital. Data analysis can make hospitals more efficient and effective at what they do.

Health information for change at the institution level might be acquired through aggregating patient records, conducting literature reviews, administering surveys, or conducting interviews and focus groups. Researchers may also be interesting in combining multiple types of health data in order to understand different sides of an issue or to focus in on a particular research question.

While health data collection is certainly nothing new, digitization has enabled brand new possibilities for analyzing financial, administrative, and clinical health information.

How is health data managed and stored?

The value of health data shows that maintaining accurate and organized records is a must. Data is stored across several platforms, such as electronic health records (EHRs), billing records, and IT system records. Because of the massive and expanding size of the health information stored by various institutions, working with it is sometimes referred to as “big data” analysis.

Since data is collected and stored across so many separate platforms, it can be quite challenging for administrators, researchers, and others to find the information they need when they need it. To combine information across platforms also poses a big challenge.

The key to ending up with the right information in an organized format is building a clear data governance strategy from the beginning, as well as establishing protocols for how to input and access that data. This should help ensure that data is accessible not only in quantity, but quality.

How can health data be kept safe?

As of 2014, about 90 percent of patient data was in a digital form. Unfortunately, that also means that there is a certain amount of risk that health records can be stolen and used for unsavory purposes. When you consider that patient data often includes medical ID numbers, addresses, and medical history, you can see why keeping this data safe should be a priority for all healthcare and healthcare management institutions.

But, it’s not just the digitization of data itself which makes health information vulnerable in today’s world; it’s also the way in which it is accessed. Doctors and patients alike now frequently access health records and insurance information through laptops and smartphones, which are stolen or compromised on a regular basis.

So what can be done to protect health records and other sensitive health data? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) specifies that electronic health information should be protected through safeguards and minimizing the sharing of data to prevent breaches.

Many companies also suggest taking a hard look at computer and network security. It is important, for example, to keep anti-virus programs up-to-date, and to encrypt records to make them more difficult for outside parties to access.

While it’s clear that a lot of good can come from being able to analyze quality health records, there are also very important steps that need to be taken to protect that data from prying eyes.